story, science, technology and creativity

Editing your own work is like diagnosing your own heart disease

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In this week’s post I’m probably going to include more mixed metaphors and cringing clichés than a pig has had hot dinners: I’ve spent most of the week editing Forests and Filth Lickers (we’re about 2/3 through the first draft!) and I just can’t be bothered editing anything else. Apologies in advance. At the end of the day, to be honest, you’re just going to have to grin and bear it.


If you’d like to see a truly great post on editing, check out Allison Winn Scotch’s What Exactly Does an Editor Do. She nails it. Because sometimes your own surgery just isn’t enough to save a manuscript. Sometimes you need an all-new surgeon. Practicing all-new techniques. The kind you wouldn’t practice on your own manuscript because they’re just too risky and you might throw the baby out with the bathwater. But at the end of the day, the baby learns to swim, and that’s what it’s all about, don’t you think? Ah, just read Alison’s post. You’ll get what I’m trying to say.


Luckily, in these early stages of Forests and Filth Lickers, things are mostly going well. Of course, when I’m in the early stages of writing, I almost always think things are going well…it’s only when I’m mostly finished than I can see gaping wounds or missing organs. In this sense, editing your own work is like diagnosing your own heart disease: by the time you know you’ve got a problem, it’s serious life-and-death and only by applying a thousand volts of electricity in just the right place and at just the right time will you ever find out which.


The draft has moved ahead leaps and bounds thanks to some tricksy editing moves. If we speak (metaphorically, of course) in terms of kitchens, this week I’ve constructed some new cupboard doors and polished up a shiny new fridge. I’ve not had to do any kitchen sink transplants or wall-rippings-out. Hopefully, I can build a kitchen that’s so good all it needs is a bit of paint and the gas switched on. (When I’m not writing or juggling Fergus, I’m house hunting, can you tell?) Sometimes I’m able to do this, and other times I’m so in love with what I’ve written that I can’t see the blockages need more than just plumbing: they need demolition and/or renovating.

So yeah.

A great editor doesn’t faff around with the nuts and bolts of commas and colons; you should have faffed those into shape long before your manuscript goes near an editor. A great editor steers the entire ship into bluer waters. Only sometimes you’re so intent on your original route you can’t see the wood for the trees and you resist. And, at the end of the day, the manuscript suffers.

So hats off to Allison for making me realize: I can fiddle with the metaphors and fix the clichés in my work. But I’m going to need someone with fresh eyes and a good dollop of genius to read through and offer suggestions. And, of course, I reserve the right to wave off those suggestions as trollop for at least the first week. And, doubly of course, I reserve the right to embrace them thoroughly once I have mourned the death of the original idea.

And PS:

If anyone’s selling a solid house with a nice yard close to the city, wave your flag in our direction!

Author: cristyburne


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