Monday, 8 December 2008

Why Did You Pack All This Stuff? - Katherine Langrish


All last week and over the weekend I’ve been going through the line edits on my new book. I had already gone over the manuscript with a broad brush – tinkering with things like making one character a little bit tougher; getting rid of some subsidiary scenes that slowed the pace – but line edits are the real nitty gritty. Punctuation, repetition, anything from half lines to whole paragraphs of dialogue or description – all get the ruthless blue pencil from my editor.

It’s easy to react badly to all this. (Well, it is for me: other writers may be far more reasonable, experienced, level-headed, calm and wise.) Even though I’ve done it before, even though my editor is lovely, sympathetic and perceptive, I take my first glance at the scrawled blue loops, crossings-out and comments with indignation positively foaming through my veins. I lose my cool. My inner teenager runs riot. I phone a friend. I pour out my woes. I am bitter, furious, misunderstood. Doesn’t my editor understand the effort that went into crafting that perfect cadence in the opening paragraph? Doesn’t she realise that if I sacrifice that, I sacrifice my artistic integrity?

Editors, I once said elsewhere, are like your mother. Writing a book is like packing a suitcase. I have a tendency to cram in everything I think I can possibly need. What will the weather be like? Will I go out in the evenings? How can I possibly bring too many shoes? Ooh, and there’s that glittery off-the-shoulder thing I got in the sales – I’ve never found a use for it yet, but maybe this time I can put it on and really strut my stuff.

Then, just as I’m bouncing on the suitcase, trying to get it fastened, along comes my editor. “I’m packed,” I say, beaming. “Just help me zip it up!”

And she says, “You don’t need all that stuff!”

And do you know what?

She’s right.

11 comments:

Brian Keaney said...

What about when she tells you , you haven't packed enough? That's even worse!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I remember sharing a taxi with you on the way to the CWIG Conference in Cambridge where you travelled with a just slightly larger 'handbag'. And I remember being in awe of how you managed to look elegant and different at every occassion. You've obviously learnt some wondrous tricks, Katherine, while you've been writing!

Katherine Langrish said...

Brian, that's never happened to me yet. I ALWAYS pack too much. And it's such a wrench to take it out again - yet one must...
Diane, that's lovely of you - but in that case, you must have certainly have learned the same tricks, as I have never seen you look anything but elegant and poised - just like your prose.

Marcus said...

My brother inlaw is horrid for packing too much stuff... and I'm horrid for forgetting things. I've gone camping in the early spring along the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies ( near Banff, Alberta ) without a jacket! How bad is that!!

On a completely side issue, I noticed there are a bunch of interesting authors here, if any of you are looking for a publisher or to distribute books online give me a shout. I work for a publisher and we are actively seeking authors and illustrators who work in children's literature ( we target, largely, the under 12 demographics ).

Lee said...

I'm not convinced. And I never will be. I write what I want, because that why I write.

And if editors are always so right, have a look at the crap that gets published. Actually, have a look at the crap that wins awards.

Brian Keaney said...

Writing is also about writing what other people like, Lee.

Lee said...

Not for me, Brian. The moment you start worrying about what other people like is the moment you stop doing something unusual, perhaps unique.

Of course, I'm not naive enough to expect others to think as I do, but by the same token I make no apologies for what I do, and how.

Katherine Langrish said...

Interesting comments, Lee, Brian. I wrote the blog in something of a rush (!) and of course I was trying to amuse. I wouldn't want you to go away thinking I am a doormat for my editor to walk over! If I feel strongly that I am right, I tell her so, and she will accept it. But, to be honest, after a year and a half of working on a book and revising and revising and revising, sometimes it's difficult to see the wood for the trees. It really can be helpful to have someone come along and say - for example - 'You're laboring the point here - you made it quite clearly a paragraph ago. Less is more.'
It's a bit like sculpting a statue out of stone, I sometimes think. My editor's function is to walk around the statue after I think I've finished, pointing out rough surfaces and occasional bits of stone that still need to be chipped off. We're both aiming for the same statue!
Of course this only works if your editor can see what you're aiming for: but mine certainly can - which is why I'm going to miss her so much now she has left! :-(

Lee said...

I'm willing to concede that there might be good editors out there, somewhere; but then again, I'm also willing to concede there might be a Santa Claus, too.

And I know two fairly prominent artists who exhibit (and sell) internationally, including sculptures. Neither one of them would ever dream of having their gallerists tell them which bits are rough, which to chip off. I've asked. 'Time to find another gallery' was the response.

Brian Keaney said...

Of course there are creative, sensitive, intelligent editors out there. Publishing is full of them. The process of making books is not about being strutting around preciously refusing to take on board criticism, it's about engaging in a dialogue with the audience. We write for our readers and the first reader is the editor. And painting is not the same business as writing, thank goodness, or we'd all be broke

Brian Keaney said...

See, that last comment needed an editor to remove the word "being"