Tuesday, 14 June 2011

How to Survive Being Edited and Still Love Your Book/Editor/Self (and Even Occasionally Smile:-)

This wasn’t lifted from a guidebook or a ‘How To’ blog, it comes direct from the Sharp End. I find revising my novel under editorial guidance a bit like experiencing assisted indigestion. Of course, gas is always better out than in, but now I’ve got someone to kick it out, and then give me soda water and interesting new stuff to eat afterwards. It’s exhausting, it’s essential, and I cope with it by being…

-NERVOUS. Don’t let anyone tell you to be relaxed about your work. Nervous energy is good – it prevents complacent or comfortable writing, and keeps you out of the biscuit tin. And fortunately there’s loads to be nervous about, especially if it’s your first novel. So bite those nails! Drink too much coffee! And don’t worry if a little cold sweat seeps into your keyboard -- there really is everything to play for and everything to lose. A nervous brain is a very active organ, a nervous brain gets things done. So keep it real, brothers and sisters -- keep it twitchy.

-HUMBLE. You are not in complete control of your novel, only the writing of it. And this is good because no way can you be expected to bring much objectivity to something you’ve been giving birth to for years. If it’s rubbish, you need to be told. If your editor spots a useful connection you could make, or a logical flaw you shouldn’thave, just be grateful. The only question you should ask is, ‘would this change improve the book?’. If the answer is yes – and somewhere deep down you’ll always know the answer to that question – then go for it. Just remember to also be...

-RUTHLESS. You’re living on your nervous system and your ego is in chains. Now you are loose in a world of your own making with the most powerful weapon a creator can have: the delete button. Even your main character reaches for a spare pair of trousers as you clank by, your senses straining in every direction for signs of plot device, flabby prose and vile non sequiturs. You have already driven cliché to the edge of extinction, and reduced vast herds of Adverbs to a few captive specimens. On your keyboard, no button shines as brightly as the one that used to say ‘Delete’.

A huddle of emaciated back-stories spot you. They point at each other and shriek, ‘Him! Do it to him!’ but you merely scatter them with your passing – you’re after new prey now. Up ahead, a minor character who no longer pulls his weight is too busy ordering pizza to notice your approach. It’s only when your monstrous scales disrupt his wireless connection, preventing him from uploading his third best Mahjong score, that he looks up into your pitiless lens. In a second, he’s off his chaise longue and running, but it’s already too late.

You know where he lives.


  1. Gosh, that's as exciting as the actual story. I have a certain empathy with the fat pizza eating one, playing Mahjong, I shall use it as an awful warning to get of my butt and make things happen here on Planet Penny!

  2. I'm watching you, Planet Penny, always watching...

  3. OOh, where's me green cape?

    Cracking good advice, Mr T! This mere mortal can only dream of the day she will acquire the need for "assisted indigestion"...parp...

  4. Thank, Rachel. In the words of Rastamouse, revision is mostly an excercise in making 'a bad ting good'.

  5. I've been at that sharp end as well a few times, and my, isn't it pointy! It's one thing if you kill a character off, but what happens if you erase them completely from existence? Should you mention them in your acknowledgements? Or transport them to the strange and mysterious world of your next book?

  6. It's funny isn't it. If you erase someone utterly no one will ever know they were even there. Except my editor, that is. She can spot things like that. Anyway, erasing people from history is what my book is about so it's all very appropriate.


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