Friday, 26 November 2010

Editor vs Writer – Letting go of your book.

An excuse to thumb through my thesauruses and maybe drool a little.

I was never going to win. A tug of war between editor and writer, with my manuscript in-between. 
Editor: "It's ready. I want it!"
Writer: "But if I could just look at the end of that fifth chapter again, I'm sure I could make it better."
Editor: "It's fine as it is. Now LET GO!"
I'm sure tickling is against the rules in a tug of war – not that it makes any difference,
deep down I knew she was right.

You can always do more, but that doesn't mean you should. It is widely accepted that the secret to good writing is rewriting, but there is a point where you have to stop and let go. As Marcus Sedgwick put it when I saw him speak recently, "When you find yourself moving commas around, the book is probably finished!" 

The trouble is, I enjoy the editing process, the craft of it. I love playing with sentences and the rhythm of the words. It provides an excuse to thumb through my thesauruses and maybe drool a little. That's when I have to remind myself that the primary function of writing is to tell a story. Of course we should try to do it well, with style and colour, but the words themselves aught to remain invisible. When you're reading a book and you start noticing the writing, it often means you've lost the story.

For me, the hardest part of this final edit was the simple act of reading the entire manuscript again. When I sat down to start, I couldn't do it! All I saw was words and sentences – the story was lost to me. Thankfully, my eleven-year-old son came to my rescue. He asked if I would read Fifteen Days without a Head to him as a bedtime story. After a shaky, surprisingly nervous start, I found it worked. Reading the book to him, allowed me to see it as a story again. 

I often read out loud when I'm writing. (Members of my family comment that they frequently hear me muttering in the loft on their way to the toilet.) I find it useful in identifying what's wrong with a certain passage. I'm not sure why it works, except that I believe writing has a lot more in common with music than we realise. Sentences have a rhythm and flow, and can sound almost out of tune if there's something wrong. 

Letting go of Fifteen Days wasn't easy, but I'm happy now. Glad that the story is further along its journey to becoming a book. It also means I am free to concentrate on all the other voices in my head, the ones with a new story to tell, at the start of another journey which will no doubt end with another tug of war.


Tim Bowler, a man who certainly knows a thing or two about how to craft a story – discusses the connections between writing and music in his Bolthole Bulletin, here.


  1. Step away from the manuscript! Seriously, well done on getting it finished and I hope the new stories are growing in your head even now.

    I've realised recently that I have a very auditory imagination, which really helps me with the rhythm and flow of words, and especially dialogue. But I still read things aloud too!

  2. Thanks Nick. I like that – "a very auditory imagination". I sometimes feel like I suffer from a very audible imagination! Not that I want the voices to stop of course! What? Hello? Who said that? Come on now, one at a time please …