Wednesday Workshop: Editing Plus

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Editing Plus
Wednesday Workshop
14 March 2018

We all need a second pair of eyes whether we are editing our own work or when we edit the work of others. Clearly,  there are several levels (layers is also a good word) at which editing can place.

1. Self-editing: I think we are better off creating the work first and editing it afterwards. However, whether we like it or not, self-editing, and even self-censorship, often takes place during the act of creation as we shuffle sentences, change words, and search for appropriate metaphors. Finish the first draft. When the piece has been drafted, we can look at editing it. I very much like the idea of going to an unfamiliar place so that we re-read in an unfamiliar setting. If familiarity breeds contempt, then unfamiliarity can often breed better editing. That is why I like to leave pieces fallow for a while, before returning to them.

2. Self-editing: One of the best forms of self-editing for me is publishing work on my blog or reading it at an open mic session. When I publish on my blog, I think of the offering, be it prose, poetry, memoir, or criticism, in terms of the ‘other’, those other eyes that will read it. When I read at an open mic session, I think of the people who will hear my spoken word. In both cases, I usually make changes in response to the audience and the perceived audience. Sometimes I make these changes as I read … realizing as I speak my offering that certain phrases are better said in a different fashion or left out altogether. Open Mic readings: I always read my offering aloud and time it before I read in public. Viva Voce is the best way, in my opinion, to catch errors in rhythm and to improve word usage.

3. BETA Readers: Many of my friends use BETA readers, trusted friends who read and criticize their work in early format. I like this idea, but I trust very few readers. Those I do trust are often too busy with their own writing to have time for consistent BETA reading.  Trust is a key issue here. If you have a good, tried and trusted BETA reader, shower them with gifts, buy them presents, keep them by your side.

4. Copy Editing: This comes at several levels that vary from the friend who corrects the occasional error, to the copy editor who fine combs your work and corrects grammar, accuracy, and punctuation. Good copy editors rarely work for free. However, it is well worth while to prepare a manuscript with great care, and some cost, before sending it away, especially to a professional publishing house. Again, trust is an important issue here.

5. Structural Editing: The editor who can deal competently with structural issues is both rare and priceless. We often see and hear how brutal editing can be, both on the writer and the text. While structural editing  can be destructive, both to the text and the writer, if well done, it can be very constructive. I think of Ezra Pound’s notes and changes to Eliot’s Waste Land as an example of exemplary editing. There are many others.

6. Editing and Publishing: I know of authors whose first books were edited heavily by the presses that published them. I also know that in some cases they never published again and in other cases they were frozen into a ‘what will the editor say mode’ that disabled their creativity enormously. Editing can be destructive as well as constructive. Alas, if we want that elusive publication, sometimes our professional editors give us very little choice. Publish or Perish + Change OR Else = an uncomfortable situation in the course of which the original wok can change shape in ways the author cannot control. This is doubly true if the writer belongs to the Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth school. And remember, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder who just happens to be editing and then offering to publish your work.

This is an interesting topic and there is so much more to say. I hope I haven’t wasted too much of your time with this.
waiting for the snow to arrive,
in Island View.

14 thoughts on “Wednesday Workshop: Editing Plus

    • Well said, Alan. A god editor, like a good Beta reader, is worth their weight in gold. Doubly so if that editor ‘reads’ your work and improves what you are trying to do, as imposed to ‘dictating’ what you must write and how you must think. By extension, if ‘the good editor’, great title for a tv series, is open to negotiation and doubles as a friend, then you are well off indeed. I guess such a friendship builds along with a mutual trust.


  1. You cover a lot of ground here, Roger, and have some very wise remarks to make. I would long for the confidence though of publishing without too much input from others. I imagine that such as Wordsworth had that confidence, although, no doubt filtered through Dorothy’s and perhaps Samuel Taylor’s input as well as his own second judgement.

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    • Confidence is a key word. However, the over-confidence of the beginning writer who ‘knows it all’ and seeks no advice is also the be distrusted. The other key factor is the act of writing. According to Chris Levenson, former editor of ARC, ‘you need to write 100 pages in order to produce 1 good page. The key is knowing which one it is.’ Unless the writer writes, that production and that act of recognition do not occur. When we start to recognize our own good writing, we can have the confidence to go ahead and publish it. Mind you, self-censorship is a devil and many good writers fail to release their words, sometimes excellent, to a wider public. So: keep writing. Keep improving. The good stuff will arrive eventually.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent post, Roger. I eventually have to stop myself from self editing! I have found 5 faithful beat readers to give me good feedback and as I’ve developed some close blogging friends, can expect honest critique from them as well. Although not everything I write goes on my blog. I agree about using spoken word to help edit and arrange sentences. I find that to be very helpful. And then finally off to my editor for a professional scrutiny! Hope you fare well in the storm. We were fortunate it missed us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The storm: not much overnight, about 4 inches, but it’s back today, all day, and snowing quite heavily right now. We’re dug out thanks to a good neighbor, and the fire is on and the coffee’s delicious, Ethiopian. Glad you liked the editing bit. I have thought a great deal about this, and done a great deal of academic editing at all levels over the years.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I love Ethiopian coffee! Thank goodness for the fire and for good neighbors. I think you really get better at editing yourself the more you write. As for the pros – finding that balance between making a piece better and taking the author right out of the equation is gold. Stay safe and warm, Roger!

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  3. Timely and valuable, Roger. As you say, finding the people to perform these essential services well is not easy, for gifts or for fee. -j

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jan. The good rugby coaches try to coach themselves out of a job, by teaching all they know to the players. Eventually, the players know as much as the coaches and can dispense with them. I think it’s the same with good teachers and good editors: teach how to learn, how to edit, and then step aside and allow the participants to do it for themselves. Life long learning: life long editing; they’re both based on trust and confidence.

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  4. A very interesting read. I’m not involved in advanced levels of scrutiny but enjoy knowing more about it. Even being a ‘write and publish’ blogger I like to drop, read again, drop, read again. Sometimes, scheduling a post for the next morning, a nagging discomfort will suddenly clarify itself. Still waiting for the snowstorm are you! … with any luck maybe it will fizzle …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Janice: drop, read, drop, is what I do, and often things readjust when I go away and leave them for awhile. I find that with posts scheduled ahead, as well. We got our storm, but it wasn’t as bad as we feared, about 10 cms / 4 inches.. However, it’s circling round and is back again right now. Schools are shut across the province and the storm is forecast to endure all day. So: reading and fireside. Luckily we haven’t lost power. Let’s hope we continue to keep it. Actually, Arthur, the summer storm that took away our power for 10 days two years ago, did us a favor. It forced the Power Commission to renew most of the ageing network in this area and we have had few problems since. A storm with a silver lining!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sounds like you might have to shovel. I haven’t put my snow scoop away but despite the regular snowfalls I haven’t had to use it for a while. (I keep it out for good luck 😉 Enjoy your cozy snow day(s) and hopefully the new power lines will hold out!

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