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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Be Your Own Best Editor

Dear Fellow Writer,

The weeks and months go flashing by, don't they?

One minute you have a whole year to complete projects, then it's halfway through the year and it looks like you've hardly touched your annual 'to do' list. 


Onward!



Be Your Own Best Editor



There are people out there who will insist that you can’t write a book or a story without first being familiar with the rules of good writing. 

However, I’ve noticed over the years that learning the basics is not in itself a very reliable method for getting new stories on paper. 

Because, if you let yourself worry too much over the practical issues to the detriment of your wish to express ideas, emotions and images, you’ll never get anything much started, let alone finished.

Indeed it could be argued that the reason why so few of us are creative in the long term is that other people’s insistence on strict adherence to predefined rules often makes us feel inadequate to artistic tasks before we begin them.

I’m a great believer in letting people have a go at whatever they’re drawn to before trying to bog them down with technique. 

There’s a famous story about Orson Welles when he was making the classic movie, Citizen Kane

Every morning, Welles would arrive at Stage 32 on the RKO Studio lot and start moving around cameras, shifting lights and rearranging sets for what he assumed would make for the most dramatic scenes. 

The technicians kept quiet at the time even though they felt that Welles really had no idea what he was doing. 

The cinematographer, award-winning Greg Toland, said later that each day he prayed no-one would interfere with Welles’ tinkering because, even though the director had no training in movie-making, Orson was unwittingly pushing the limits of art through his ignorance of the correct procedure. 

Some of the scenes in Citizen Kane are considered to be ingeniously brilliant to this day, borne as they were from Orson’s lack of understanding of how movies were made in 1940. 

Now, we can’t all be the genius that Welles undoubtedly was, but this story surely illustrates how, on occasion, proper education can be limiting from an artistic standpoint.

Simply put, sometimes it’s better to not know what you’re doing!

Having said that, Welles of course had a team of filmmakers around him that honed and polished his vision into the movie we see today. 

When it comes to books, we often have to rely on our own skills, judgment and knowledge to smooth out and burnish our first drafts into something more aesthetically pleasing and conventionally formatted.

I really don’t recommend that you use other people to edit and polish your work, at least in the long term. 

Other people will never truly understand your vision. Besides which, your first draft is really only a rough guide, a hunk of rock that looks a bit like the final statue, if you will. 

Most of your own genius will not be evident until you begin the final sculpting process yourself.

I’ve corresponded with writers - usually journalists - who regard editing as a chore that their superiors are paid to do, therefore they shouldn’t sully themselves with such things. 

This thinking is mistaken. 

Not only is it lazy and will inevitably lead you into bad habits you’ll find hard to break, you’ll never learn to appreciate the power and profundity of words unless you get used to honing your own prose.

Learning how to edit your own work is especially relevant these days when self-publishing has become such a viable - and profitable - option for many new authors.

In my own case I’ve found that waiting for other people to edit, beta-read and proof my work can be enormously time-consuming. 

This can be all the more frustrating when a book that, for instance, takes six weeks to write, but then takes twice as long to get read, edited and proofed by third parties. And, although I understand the need to get fresh eyes onto a project, I prefer to work more quickly. 

I feel I have no choice but to take on the role of reader, editor, polisher and proof-reader myself. Editing and proofing a book, for example, will perhaps take me two or three days and not the two or three months it might take others to do for me. 

You may have noticed that I’m currently putting out a book on Amazon every six to eight weeks. 

I believe this kind of frequency to be ‘about right’ for modern authors, if they are to compete successfully in the digital marketplace and make a good living from their passion. 

Maybe it’s symptomatic of my inherent impatience but I invariably don’t like to delay the release date of a new book simply because I’m waiting for someone else to read the manuscript. Waiting torments me and does little else but remind me that I should be perfecting the text myself.

Okay, sometimes we consistently don’t see our own mistakes. I’m all too aware of that. 

However, I have also worked with a myriad of editors and proof-readers who similarly miss glaring errors, or correct grammar incorrectly. 

In the past I’ve been forced to re-edit manuscripts that have apparently been prepared by a professional. 

I’m sure it’s a swings and roundabouts thing. 

Self-editing may not work for everyone, especially if competence levels are shaky. 

However, I believe we should ideally aspire to be our own best editors.

Keep Writing!


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