ONE THING I’VE LEARNED
Over the last fifteen years I’ve made the transition from being a publisher to being a full-time writer and journalist. I was an editor for many years, working with both novelists and non-fiction writers, advising, editing, publishing. It was a peach of a job, but not one that I miss in any way now.
As gamekeeper turned poacher, the one thing I’ve learned is what a huge difference there is between editing and writing. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gaily advised authors to sharpen that character, lose that scene or even, in two cases, to rewrite the whole book. But now when my editor gives me similar advice (she hasn’t yet been moved to do the last, thank God), I think: How do I do that? What exactly do you mean? When I was an editor myself, I don’t think I realised how much thought is sometimes required to make those changes. I think back to ‘my’ authors and wish I had been more understanding of the process. Writing is much more demanding than I realised then.
People assume that I must find it easy to edit my own work. Far from it. By the time I’ve finished a novel I’m so close to it that I can’t see the most obvious of errors. Being an editor requires a degree of objectivity that gets lost in the creative process. In order to do both, I would have to put the book away for months before I could distance myself sufficiently.
The difference between a writer and their editor is best reflected in the distinction between the expression of a story, characters and ideas, and the clear communication of those to the reader. That is where the editor comes in.
Writer and editor are united in their desire to create a story, characters and ideas and to communicate them to the reader. But their roles are different. One produces the material. The other rubs off its rough corners with (if you’re fortunate) a combination of delicate psychology, tact and syntactical skill. It seems to me that writing and publishing a book is a process that demands the successful collaboration of both.