We can’t write in isolation.
What do I mean by that, as I sit here, on my own, talking to nobody but myself…and tomorrow, I will do the same. I will sit at my desk, with the keyboard in front of me, and I shall create new scenes, new dilemmas for my characters. And I shall do it in solitude, not sharing any of it with anyone. Transported into a world of ‘pure imagination’ as Roald Dahl put it.
However, when it is all done, the pages formatted, the words polished, I will send it out into the world. And the first port of call could be the editor.
If you are fortunate enough to been taken on board by a publisher, it is usual for the editing process to begin fairly soon. The contract is signed, the heart pounds, the throat is dry. Any moment now your name will be at the top of the Sunday Times best-sellers…Well, a big breath is needed. The publishing house, be it a major, multi-billion dollar company, or a small independent, will work with you closely as your work will need to be edited. You may ask Auntie Gwen to look at it, got the milkman to run his eye over a few chapters, and they may even have spotted some typos, but it is the editor’s job to transform your work into a masterpiece. Or something close to it.
I think it was Ian Fleming who said he never worried about grammar or spelling, that was all down to editor. For most of us, I would hazard a guess that we try and get our work as close to perfect as we can before we send it away. Nevertheless, the editor may well come up with some points other than purely grammatical. They may have some advice, some suggestions…or they may even demand some changes.
Now, it is this last point that I am going to focus on.
I had a novel which I thought was fairly good. I’d put it on Authonomy and I received some interesting comments, which I acted upon and did my very best to re-work various scenes, etc. When it was looking fairly good (in my estimation), I submitted it to some publishers and it was picked up by one.
After that initial euphoria, the editing process began.
I was naïve then, desperate to have my book out, to share it with all those eager readers who were queuing up to devour my words. (Who am I kidding? Hardly anybody read it, except the publisher.)
It began. The editing process. It was intense, uncompromising, and became something I dreaded. Huge swathes of my work were being analysed, questioned, criticised, removed; other pieces included. Suggestions were not given, these were instructions. Orders. I had to do it their way, because they knew best. Not that they had created the story, not that they had even the slightest idea about what I wanted to say…No, their college creative writing courses had schooled them in what was good, and what was not.
Henning Mankell has sold over 25 million books around the world. Imagine that. When you read his pages, you never once stop to say…‘Mmm, I’m a little bit concerned about the use of ‘was’, or the way he includes adverbs, and as for his POV, well…I’m totally confused.’ But I’m not confused. I’m an intelligent reader. I understand what he is telling me. The pictures he has woven with his words come alive in my mind. I love his books, and so do countless others. I see nothing wrong in what he does. I’ve never been to a creative writer’s course. I read, a lot. And I write. All the time. I’m a writer. I’m instinctive. I’ve lived a life. I use my own experiences to inform my characters’ actions. But here I was, being told what to do by someone who has never seen the things I have seen, met the people I have met, but who has dissected Faulkner and Steinbeck until their eyes bled. And all of it in a nice, cosy classroom.
I became resentful.
They changed my book. I should have stood up. I should have said, ‘NO!’ But I didn’t. I was weak, I was blind. Once the contract has expired, I will take that book and I will put it back to how it should be. Mine. And when it is published again, it won’t have those words I have come to hate, written on the front piece ’Edited by…’.How conceited is that, I ask you.
Am I angry? Yes I am. It should be a collaborative process, not a dictatorial one. Nobody knows your work better than you. Yes, it could be improved, it could even be changed, but not to the extent that you no longer even recognise it. Be strong. It is your creation, and it didn’t exist before you put fingers to the keyboard. We are the creators, and we should allow ourselves to be steam-rollered. I did, and I regret it. I’m not saying all editors are like this – far from it. The majority are supportive, informed and insightful people. But some are not. I open up that book of mine, read the opening lines and I shudder. That is not my writing. But one day, I assure you, it will be.
I have two websites.
If you prefer stories full of super-natural horror, then visit my Young Adult site:
If your taste is more for thrillers, action, suspense, murder and mystery, then please go along to www.stuartgyates.com
Either way, I hope you enjoy what you find.
The links to all my work and how to purchase titles are on my sites. Keep reading!