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Editing

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

Terry Pratchett

Say “Yes” to Editing

My first exposure to working with an editor came when I wrote my Master’s thesis a good while ago. I spent two years conducting practical research, then collecting and interpreting mountains of data. Finally my manuscript was done.

A close friend of my parents offered to read my work. This was still in the days before computers and word processors, so I handed him my precious manuscript; the only copy in existence. A few weeks later he returned my document.

When I opened it and flipped through the pages, my heart sank. Almost every line on every page was marked up in glaring red ink. To say that I was devastated would be a huge understatement. I wanted to cry. I wanted to burn the retched pages. My greatest achievement, the culmination of years of work was rubbished by this so-called “friend”.

I threw it in a corner and went for a walk – a very long walk. I was devastated. I had always had a suspicion that I was a fraud, that the academic goal I had set for myself was way beyond my reach.

Hours later (it might have been days) I returned. It was still lying there. I looked at it, wishing it would vanish. Miserable to the core, I reached out and picked it up. I opened what was to have been my crowning achievement. I started at page one and began to read.

There was a short note at the top from the friend saying that he had been amazed by the scope and quality of what I had written. Because of this he had taken particular pains in critiquing and making suggestions.

I read on. Word by word, and line by line, I compared my writing with his comments. I was awestruck with the depth and understanding he had treated my meagre efforts with. I pulled out my typewriter and started to write. There were suggestions I dismissed, and others that caused me to rethink whole sections.

Several months and two more rewrites later I handed the final printed and bound book in to my professor. He was ecstatic. In no small part because of my editor, my thesis became the foundation of decades of subsequent research work and was widely cited.

Since then I have written short stories, fiction thriller novels, and non-fiction ‘how-to’ books. Each time, as with any other author, my writing has been a bearing of my soul – irrespective of what had been written. Writing is an intensely personal experience. It is connected to the fragile inner psyche. Still, each time, I bite the proverbial bullet and hand that which is nearest and dearest to my heart off to my editor.

2016-12-29 (2)From my original editor and true friend, who graced an insignificant youth with his expertise, I learned that all important lesson:

As an author it is my role to have an idea and to paint a picture with words. It is the editor’s job to see my idea and make my work the best it can be. This is a delicate but immensely valuable partnership.

That was how I learned just how vital it is to have one’s work edited.

Rule #1: You cannot proof your own work.

I’m not saying you should not read, re-read, rewrite and keep changing things as described above – that is also proof reading and editing. What you cannot do is find spelling errors (typos), grammatical errors, inconsistencies, word duplications, idiosyncrasies, flow errors, etc. Having written a document, your mind reinterprets what you have written and thus misses many things. This is perfectly normal and does not make you a poor writer.

In our printing company, we routinely printed brochures and newsletters written by our clients. We did the design and layout. “Yes, the text is perfect,” I was routinely told. When I then read the provided copy, I invariably stumbled over many items: typos, punctuation, and word usage. Very commonly I would find there was something missing, and I could not understand the writing. That was usually an omission by the writer, where they had either assumed the reader would know this or that, or worse, where the writer had thought that item had been included where it was not – even after many edits on their part.

So we added a proof reader and an editor to our staff, and were able to add another service to our portfolio.

 

 

 


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