Last week, Conker House were delighted to deliver a workshop for the London Writers’ Café on the mysterious ‘Art of Editing’.
As a writer, the editing process can feel very daunting as you have spent so many hours working at it and poured so much of your soul onto the page, often at great personal sacrifice of home and family life, so then seeking to rework those precious words can not only feel like a sacrilege but also an alien process.
However, the editing journey can be as rewarding, if not even more so, than the writing one. As editor par excellence Arthur Plotnik once said: “You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you, and we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”
Editing is an integral part of writing as it is where you realise the craftsmanship of the author, but what does ‘editing’ actually mean?
Editing is, in essence, the developing, changing, correcting, adding, deleting, substituting and polishing of your work. All writers edit unconsciously as they write, choosing one word over another, putting in a comma here and there, going back to make their blonde-haired protagonist into a ginger hero or heroine, but to take your writing to the next level, it is important to wake up the conscious editor in you. Successful editing is about deliberately engaging with your text at multiple levels from its overall structure and pattern on the page to finessing the full-stop.
The most important driver of the editing process is ensuring that your text speaks to its intended reader and delivers your original vision in the most compelling way possible. Although the importance of editing is hopefully undoubted, the when and how often remains a mystery for many authors.
There is no hard and fast rule about how long the gap between finishing writing and starting editing should be, but it can help to better define the break between writing and editing by giving your brain (and body) a clear delineation, perhaps go on holiday, take a few days off work, remove yourself from the environment in which you write for a while, so that you, to some extent, have disconnected yourself from your writing brain. Also, try editing somewhere different from where you write.
So, you’ve had a break from your work and now you’re ready to look at it anew – how do you go about that? Much of editing is about employing your rational brain instead of your emotional brain that may have dominated when you were first writing. It is important to remember that you are writing for a READER. Think about who that reader is: what do they look like, what matters to them and why –profile them; keep a note of this profile by you when you edit. Also, remind yourself that your reader doesn’t have the backstory to your book; they are not as invested initially as you are in your characters or the world they inhabit – your job as a writer-editor is to make them so. Be aware of your ‘literary vices’, which may include: stereotyping, clichés, verbosity, repetition, adjective overkill, predictable phrases, redundant words – these can be the stumbling blocks that stop your reader becoming immersed swiftly in the world you’ve created for them. However, editing is NOT about focusing on the negative, but embracing the positive – enhancing the power of writing, making it as effective as possible, so as much as you need to be aware of your literary vices, you also need to feel empowered as a writer to not change things or strong enough to try changing them and then changing them back again.
The most important thing to bear in mind is that editing is reversible – play with it; explore and reimagine your text – you may go back to the original, but challenge yourself to see it anew. Editing should be a liberating process as it is about realising your words and your vision.