I write pretty good prose first time up, but I want my finished work to fall somewhere between pretty good and perfect.
Pretty good, ain’t good enough. And perfect ain’t possible.
And that is where my editors come in.
First up strike the beta readers, who aren’t editors as such but people who read the first draft and go: ‘Did you really mean that?’ ‘What is all that about?’ ‘I like this guy?’ ‘Is this even English?’
So I collate the comments and sigh and grin, and redo it, rework it, retype it all again. That is the end of the first draft and off it flies to my structural editors, who are skilled story-tellers.
They proceed to tear my story apart: ‘Cut this scene.’ ‘Move this to here.’ ‘Use her flaming name.’ ‘This flows like a puddle of water drying in the sun, get it fixed.’
So I rework the whole thing, cut and paste, make the story drive straight from the page into the reader’s brainpan. Then I read it all through, aloud, for flow and shift and change and make it work. That is the end of the second draft and off it goes to my copy-editor, who is a professional of many years experience.
She proceeds to tear my prose apart: ‘That sentence is so convoluted I can’t even see where the thread begins, let alone ends.’ ‘The rule of three is a powerful rhetorical tool, but you don’t have to use it every other flaming paragraph.’ ‘I have not a clue what this thing you just mentioned is doing. What is it for, can you clarify it a bit.’ ‘All that fighting is lovely and all, but should I be yawning?’
So I take the prose apart, make decisions, fix clarity issues, and then read it through, aloud, for flow, again.
And I enjoy every single moment of the process. From first draft to last I am grinning and nodding — and wincing and scratching me poor benighted head as I work out how to fix something that I didn’t even know was there.
As a writer, I am always reaching, stretching, taking a wild leap into the dark. I am pushing the boundaries of story and structure, of prose and rhetoric, trying to make the work the best it can possibly be.
And my editors, all of them, are my safety net when I fall short.
Editors are not just there to catch your mistakes, they are not just checking for typos, a freaking machine can do both those things.
Editors are there to make your story fly and your prose sing. If you don’t enjoy being edited then either:
You have the wrong editor.
You should pull your head out of your arse and smell the coffee. Film-makers say that they make their film in the editing suite, because that is where they make the choices that define the flow, the mood, the feel of the movie. Writers make their stories in the edits, in the drafts, where they define and clarify, rework and retype, fix and polish.
And without editors to shine a light you may as well get a trained monkey to do the job, because you is working in the dark, old son.