All writing requires editing. Very occasionally a piece of writing will arrive pretty well complete, as a gift. I have written one or two poems like this and passages in fiction. But everything will need some sort of revision process. Editing is the process by which writers develop and grow.
My editor, Lucy Cuthew, recently wrote an article about how she edits a book. Lucy’s process is to ask literally hundreds of questions. Her purpose is to try to understand, “What it is a book wants to be.” Lucy writes dozens of comments on a manuscript, including lots of those attractive little bubbles which appear in the right hand margin. “I edit a book,” says Lucy, “by trying to make it the best version of itself it can be.”
I can think of no greater goal for editor and writer than helping the book to become its ‘Best Self’. I want all of my writing to be its ‘best self’. To me this means that I am always striving to improve my writing, always challenging myself to work harder, learn more, take on something I haven’t tried before.
I was very impressed by Hilary Mantel when, after winning the Man Booker Prize in 2009, she was asked what was next and she replied, “To write a better book.”
Sue Gee, prize winning author of nine novels and Head of Creative Writing at Middx University, states, “All writers are apprentices all of their lives.”
In my cycle of three novels set on Hayling Island, I set myself a new challenge for each book. I have used the first person POV, the third person POV and two different POVs, moving between two characters. Each book presented me with the opportunity to try something different - different viewpoints, different dilemmas and different characters, such as characters who don’t speak much English or a major character who doesn’t actually speak at all!
Karl, the second main character in ILLEGAL ( Meadowside, March 2012), is mute for a large part of the book. I have taught children who are mute. Yet it still took me more than a year to work out how to portray this complex character on the page. Karl is one of my favourite characters in the cycle.Setting myself new challenges keeps the writing process fresh and exciting for me.
One of the beauties of language is that we are constantly developing our ability to express ourselves, to describe what we are trying to do. Lucy has given me the phrase, ‘Helping the book to become its Best Self’. This is what I have always tried to do. Now I have the vocabulary to express the thought concisely.
What have you learnt from the editing process?
You can read Lucy Cuthew’s article about her editing process here.