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The Riveting Truth (as I see it) About Editing

There’s a lot of hysteria, in the author world, about editing. Even people who are not authors – who have maybe never written anything of note in their entire lives – can be a little on the obsessive side about editing, and what it means, and what it should look like. Most people have something to say about it.

I have something to say about it myself.

There are two specific types of editing; developmental and grammatical, and both are important. Developmental editing enables a story to flow as intended, to keep the reader engaged and focused on the progression of the plot and the outcome. Paragraphs, dialogue and story references in the wrong places (among other things) or that which are actually irrelevant, can disrupt an intended flow or timeline, and frustrate the reader to the point where they give up trying to fight their way through a disjointed manuscript. Grammatical editing is critical too. Nobody likes to read a book that is chock-full of spelling mistakes, inadequate or wrongly used punctuation, or sentences or paragraphs that make no real sense or are too long or meandering. Equally annoying is dialogue that doesn’t have enough breaks in it, or sentences that are far too short. That kind of stuff.

It's all important. But here’s the thing. Almost every author I know is worried about it, and I am not at all sure the extent of their worry is entirely justified. Most authors write a manuscript from the heart, sometimes (like me) even from the soul, and yes; it has to make sense. It has to be coherent and readable, and as grammatically and developmentally tidy as it can be. The reader deserves to have something worthwhile to read. But at the end of any editing process, the author still wants their voice to be authentic and real. They still want the reader to ‘hear’ the book as intended – as they actually wrote it.

Let’s be real. Almost every book has editorial mistakes in it, of one kind or another. It is all avoidable, but sometimes occasional errors still leak through. If there are too many, it becomes clear to both reader and author that the final draft wasn’t checked well enough. That’s the author or the editor’s ‘bad.’ But a random mistake here or there simply mirrors life, with all its glorious imperfections, and we kind of have to take it on the chin a little bit.  And, of course, let’s not forget that what some critics would regard as incorrect, others would regard as appropriate. The use of commas, quotation marks, italicised thought, etc… you will absolutely always find someone, who thinks it’s wrong when it isn’t. Or right, when it isn’t. Editing is important but there will always be a subjective element to it.

People who know me, who have read my books, often say they can hear my voice in them. They know it is me who’s written them. They recognise the voice of the writer, and what I find very interesting is that people who don’t know me say a similar thing – that the books all carry the same author’s voice. For me, that is a far more gratifying compliment than the fact that all my commas and speech marks were in the right places. I’m more concerned with my real voice getting through, than I am with whether I should have switched paragraphs to make things ‘flow’ a little more easily. I probably should, from time to time, but nobody has died because I didn’t. Nobody has waded in and told me that my work is a pile of ribbish because of it. And the fact is, that not everyone will like an author’s work, no matter how well or poorly edited it may be. Readers will either hook into the story itself, or they won’t. If they do, a misplaced set of quotation marks or a paragraph that follows another, that probably should have gone in front of it instead, is not going to be a deal breaker.

It's important to avoid glaring mistakes, like words spelled wrongly (and let’s face it; spell-check isn’t always our friend), or paragraphs in terribly jumbled order. But assuming its coherent and flowing, I’m not sure who wants to produce and publish a manuscript (or who even wants to read one, come to that…) that has been ‘edited’ to within an inch of its life, to the point where the reader’s authentic voice has been drowned in the process of making sure everything is as ‘correct’ as an editor deems it to be.

I once had someone look at a book I’d written, and they came back with suggestions that literally changed my voice. I had my doubts about the recommendations, not that I’m arrogant enough to believe I know everything good editors don’t – far from it! But I decided to do a little research. I read someone else’s book that had been 'edited' by that so-called professional, and I was absolutely horrified. It was all I could do to battle my way through that book. It was so badly written, I have never forgotten it. It’s not a good thing at all, to remember a book for all the wrong reasons, but that one; I did. And I ended up feeling sorry for the author, because they deserved better than what they got from the person they trusted with the job of making it brilliant.

Needless to say, I didn’t go with that person’s ‘recommendations.’ In that case, I really did know better, and I stuck with my original manuscript. It was a decision that didn’t let me down. At least, I haven’t heard to the contrary yet!

So, if you’re writing something for publication, or thinking about it, and you need or want to get it edited, it’s a wise move. Just make sure you don’t end up with a piece of work that your authentic voice has somehow managed to get submerged in. Review the work of editors, before you pay them any money, and make sure their clients are happy with what they’ve done. A good editor won;t be shy of letting you see what they've done for other peolpe, and bear in mind that while it may be good, it still might not feel right for you. Trust your gut on everything!

Language is a wonderful form of expression, and being real is often more important than being correct. There’s a midpoint between a sloppy, poorly executed manuscript and an uptight, stiff one. A good book should aim to be somewhere at that midpoint, in my humble opinion. Don;t let anyone edit you out of your own work! 

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