On Being Too Close To Your Story

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You’re a writer. You’ve probably spent the last year or so chipping away at your novel – the love/hate of your life, bringing clarity and shape to the mangle of ideas and shadows that filled your head for so long. You’ve worked and reworked elements of story, developed character, polished and burnished grammar and structure until blue in the face, brought years of learning to the table in order to shunt your darling as close to that ready-to-go status required to take that next step.

What’s the next step? Some writers, especially first-timers, make the huge mistake of releasing their novel to the world before putting it through the able hands of a professional editor. Who needs an editor, anyway? Why fork out a substantial amount on someone who can’t possibly see your creation as you do? It’s yours, not theirs. You’ve also spent so long learning your trade as a wordsmith, honing your craft with knowledge accrued from your home library, workshops, and the internet, even ensuring your friends from your writing group had a read of it and shared their valued opinions. What’s the point of sending it out to someone who just wants to make a buck out of you?

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Because, my friend, the editor isn’t constrained by your emotional connection to your novel. It doesn’t matter how good a writer you are, or even how solid you are at editing, as the creator you are way too close to see the wood for the trees. You’ve made so many changes from day one, often reverting to something cut or reworked in an earlier draft, that your head and heart are filled with those lurking shadows that make up the holistic body of your novel. As you work through different phases of the self-editing process, what you see on the page often doesn’t correlate with the jumbled roadmap in your mind, simply because you carry the sense-memory of each action – each change – involving questions, doubts, and justifications for every decision you or your characters have made across the breadth of the manuscript.

I’ve seen it so many times – writers adamant that they’ve covered near-enough everything that needs covering, many needing the proverbial arm-twist to get them to have their hallowed tome edited by anyone but themselves. And I’ve seen the shock on their faces when their edits are returned. ‘Eh? This isn’t mine, is it? No!’

You cannot have a clear view of your own work, even if you read it backwards, aloud, from a loudhailer. It’s just not possible. We can only take our work so far before it needs the stable, objective eye of a professional. Your line-editor will trawl through your manuscript, word by word, phrase by phrase, paragraph by paragraph, scene by scene, chapter by chapter, character by character, point by point, setting everything straight and pulling slack from the rope you so carefully tied your package with. The contents of your package: tone, pacing, voice, point of view, conflict/tension, narrative arc, character, dialogue issues, anything and everything to do with grammar and style (normally the job of the copy editor, but ideally covered in a line edit), readability, credibility, and anything else that falls from the sky will be sifted through and clarified to the extent that your script will be dripping red and you will be nothing short of shell-shocked on its return.

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Your shock will be short-lived once you’ve read through the changes and started applying suggested edits. The mists will part and you’ll see through the clotted branches, at last able to make out what was hiding there all along, waiting for the cloak of familiarity to be whipped off by your trustworthy editor. I use ‘trustworthy’, because make no mistake your editor has your best interests at heart. He/She won’t lie to you, or pull any punches when the ‘hit’ needs to be made. She’s not your friend, afraid of a catty repost levelled from an ego-bruised heart. In saying that, any suggested edit should be made in a constructive manner, and always with due consideration for author integrity.

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Once the edits have been applied, you’ll then return the new draft to be copy-edited and proofed, probably still shaking from the experience but in a far better place than when you were so adamant that you were all your manuscript required before submitting or releasing it. So, do yourself a big favour and have your work edited. Even better, check out my details and contact me for a chat and free sample edit: clearviewediting@gmail.com

By |June 10th, 2015|

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