Monday, 6 May 2013

Reading and editing work even as a novice

The last few months have been an interesting time. I have got to know two people, friends now, who were interested in publishing a book. I’ll tell you about them in more detail another time, there will be a more formal launch of their ebooks where I will introduce you properly, but one aspect of the whole process I wanted to write about today.

Who am I to edit anyone’s work?

Well, I’m not anyone. So to start with I was honest and up front and explained to them that I am a novice who has no experience in publishing, no experience in writing novels, and no experience in book sales and marketing except…and this is where I had a mixture of pride and squirminess…except for what I have learnt in the last year of throwing myself into the world of indie self publishing.  It turned out that was not an inconsiderable amount once I started going through it. Enthusiasm is as vital a part of making something happen as anything I guess so over a few meetings we agreed to work together and see what would happen.
Once the initial talking was done, the obvious next stage was to read their work and of course for them that was a big step, to have others read your work but for me, I didn’t think much further than being excited to see what their story was like.
Then something strange occurred during the passing over of the papers, it felt like a physical sense of trust and faith was transferred at the same time. Not just from the authors but from somewhere unheard of before inside of me. I looked down at the papers and realised someone has put their baby in my hands and the sense of this being something extremely serious to be taken absolutely professionally took over me.
When someone has spent hours working on something personal and gives it up for someone else to examine, that is both an honour and a responsibility. They have gone through the easily mentioned set of emotions that sound glib when listing here, but when you have personally experienced those emotions, you understand how draining and exhausting it really is. It is the same for all people of course, we don’t really know for instance what all our friends do at their workplaces do we? We all moan and complain and sound off about this person or that person, and it becomes so regular that we don’t really appreciate how serious it is. We don’t walk in our friend’s shoes so we don’t know how much it actually affects them, deep down, the turbulence of their daily lives. But, when you have walked in their shoes, then you have a much more sincere appreciation of the issues they are going through. In this case, it isn’t work, but the painful hours spent creating something enormously personal in the hours after the painful work hours have already been spent! The nights and weekends they have struggled to find minutes free from their family responsibilities, their day job tasks that creep into their home-life, and that free time when you are supposed to enjoy being you, if you can remember what it is like to be you that is. To be even more honest, I haven’t even had the home pressures to that extent, and I still went through one of the most stressful periods of my life when completing my first story. I only had myself to worry about me, I worked full time yes, but outside of that I had no external pressure or responsibilities. But I still like to think I have an inkling of understanding of what it is to stay awake all night writing, re-writing and re-writing some more, the stress of reading the same chapters time and time again and still finding errors, the constant self doubt, the periodic elation when you come up with something you think is pretty damn good and you can’t stop smiling because you never thought you had it in you, and the near crushing sense of foolishness the next day when you wonder who the hell you are trying to kid!

So I take the manuscripts and I start to read.

Do you ever have that moment of clarity when you no longer want to joke around? When you tell yourself to take something seriously not because your boss is looking over your shoulder, or you are under a deadline, or any other reason outside of yourself, but because you want to? Your passion overrides everything and you become immersed? Well if you haven’t, and you are interested in writing, then go out and read someone else’s draft. It will do things to you…

This is what it did to me:

  1. I read more intensely than I have ever read before.
  2. I re-read more intensely that I have ever re-read before.

Now I don’t want to make light of the things I have done before, I studied for a literature degree and I was pretty damn stressed at times doing that it is no understatement to say, and for sure I took it seriously. I worked very hard during that time but this felt different because it was an entirely self created circumstance, it was my own company I was doing it for, my own deadlines, it was my own sense of achievement, purpose and drive, it was for my own future and I wasn’t about to take it lightly.
The most important part of what I am writing about now is the message I want to send out about how much I learnt by doing this. I felt myself grow as not just an amateur writer, but within every aspect of being involved in literature as a lifestyle. I saw mistakes that I made in my own writing, and would have continued to make had I not seen it in another person’s work, I saw opportunities to make the story flow better, to move chapters around, to condense, to expand, to tell more, to tell less, to show more and to show less…all of which helped me as much as it did them. There is no doubt in my mind I became a better writer myself through the process of editing someone else’s work.
Now I know that one of the golden rules if you want to be a writer is to read, read, read. Everyone says it and of course it is true. You learn so much from reading different styles and although as I’ve blogged before, it is not the easiest thing to do when you are writing yourself for many reasons, it is still something I try to do. However, I want to add that I think undertaking actual exercises in editing is powerful. I may try and get some textbooks or test papers from somewhere and every now and again work through them. I realise now how much I miss the work I used to undertake as part of my studies and how much those practice exercises are of value. It is a real challenge to see how you can make characters come alive more acutely, or help a storyline flow better, as well as examining grammar and spelling of course…so although I bet this is stating the obvious to many, it is something I have only understood through the last few months working with other writers.

Best wishes,

*Sorry for no pictures in this blog, I was thinking about posting pics of manuscripts but I didn’t want to post other people’s work as it didn’t seem fair.

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