Writers write. This is hardly Earth-shattering news, but it can led to challenges. In particular, as a writer, you will often be too close to a piece you are working on to be able to look at it in an objective manner. Yet, this is important if you are to be able to refine your early drafts into the final polished article. This is where an editor comes in. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a trained professional, it can be fellow writer, or a friend you trust to give an honest opinion. Their job is simply to give that objective opinion which you cannot give yourself.
However, working with an editor can be difficult, especially for the uninitiated. This is because you need to give up some of the control you have over you piece, and this is something most writers will fight against. After all, you’ll have poured your heart and soul into your work, and you will often feel as protective of it as if it were your own child. While this is understandable, this is something you need to get over if you’re going to succeed as a writer. This is because, in almost all cases, the editor, with their more objective frame of mind, will be right. If they say that a character has to go, them it’s almost certain they will have to go. If they say a scene isn’t working, or isn’t needed, the chances are they’re right. If they say the dialogue isn’t working or the plot is flawed, then this is what others are likely to think too. In short, while the editor’s job is to give an objective opinion, yours as the writer, is to listen to them.
There will be many times you will want to disagree with them, often vehemently (and occasionally even violently!), but you should bite your tongue. Pick your battles and only go into bat for the one or two suggestions you really feel you cannot live with. Even then, you’ll still have to work out why a specific scene isn’t working and then try to fix it; yet in the end, you’ll often find yourself coming round to the same opinion as the editor.
So, when should you use an editor? There’s probably three stages of any project where having input from an editor is most useful. The first is right after you’ve finished your first draft. Here, they can give you their thoughts on the broad outline: Does the plot work? What about the characters? Is the story arc complete and consistent with itself? The second is after you’ve fixed all the major problems with the first draft (and there will always be major problems with the first draft!). Here, they will concentrate more on the language your using, check that the dialogue is working, look at how the characters grow and develop throughout the story, make sure than you don’t use the same words and descriptions too frequently, and so on. As writers, it’s easy to slip into fixed patterns and continually pluck the same words or phrases out of the air, yet such repetition makes your text rather boring and flat. While you can go through and weed these out yourself, an editor will do it quicker and better.
The final point at which the input from an editor is extremely useful is right at the end, just before you publish or submit your manuscript. Here, they will concentrate on the nitty-gritty, ensuring that the grammar is correct and that all the commas are where they should be, that the spelling is right and that all the words are in the right tense.
While you might be able to write a complete novel without using an editor, it is almost certain that you will have a better final product if you work with an editor. In addition, you’ll often find that it’s quicker and easier to finish your book with an editor’s help. This is because they can often spot how to solve problems which you know are there, but that you can’t quite work out how to deal with on your own.
I suspect that some writers, especially those just starting out, feel that working with an editor is somehow cheating, since it can sometimes feel that a project is no longer all your own work. However, all writers need editors, and even the most famous authors need this type of external input in order to complete their work. They, too, will often find themselves arguing with their editors over decisions, and just like the rest of us, they’ll eventually realise that their editor is right and they are wrong.
So, working with an editor is a good thing, and it can only improve your writing, but one question remains: where do you find an editor to work with in the first place? This is a tricky question to answer. If you’re lucky, you will have friends or fellow writers you can turn to, especially for the first or second read-throughs (this is what I do, and I only use a professional editor for the final read through). If not, it can be a bit hit and miss. This is because there are many free-lance editors out there, and it can be difficult to find one you are happy to work with.
There are professional associations which you can use to help you find a reputable editor, and you can always ask for examples of pieces an editor has worked on before you take them on. Employing a free-lance editor will not necessarily be cheap, but it can make the difference between your novel popping and fizzing with action, or just coming across a little flat. This is particularly true for the final read through, where varying the punctuation marks can make all the difference to how the story comes across, and let’s face it, does anyone beyond a professional editor really know all the rules for the correct use of some of the more exotic punctuation marks that are out there?
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.