Book I, Part I: Less is More
Monday morning, my email pings. It’s the publisher, telling me he’s looked at the first book of my new series. It’s editing time. He’s had a new editor look at it, he says. I begin to feel nervous. I know that there is a lot of cutting to do. I wrote my first series, Guinevere, in a manic six weeks, and with half an eye on writing it to a commercially viable length. Encouraged by my erstwhile love and long-time muse, Kay, I sent it off to a publisher before I had time to over-think it, and there I was, just nine months after I had begun writing the thing, watching it go live on Amazon. No time to over-think.
Now, though, I was about to receive back a series I had had more than a year to read, re-read, re-edit and ruminate on. Somehow the draft of this one had ended up almost twice as long as Guinevere. And I knew it needed to be cut. Still, I wasn’t looking forward to a file full of instructions to excise parts of my beloved book. Written in self-indulgence, perhaps, but nonetheless dear to my sweet old artistic soul. I girded my loins (and boy did those loins need to be girded) and I dived in.
I was surprised by what I found. I should probably explain my own editing process. It is the worst editing process in the world. I just add. Add add add. And it’s because I love writing so much. It’s what I do to keep myself sane after a long day of work. So, if I like something I have written, I try to re-live the enjoyable process by writing more. Error error error. This is why writers make such bad editors of their own work. It’s hard to do less of something you enjoy. It’s hard to make yourself cut something that you love.
So there I was expecting to read something that pummelled my self-esteem by demanding I cut beloved scenes from my magnificent octopus. (If you’re too young to get a Blackadder joke, surely you’re too young to be unsupervised on the internet?) That wasn’t what I found at all. My beloved book hadn’t been put into the hands of some crazed woodsman hacking down healthy growth left, right and centre. It had been put into the hands of a skilled tree surgeon (if you forgive the extended analogy), trimming out what was stopping the existing healthy plant from showing to its best. Paring away unnecessary additions to dialogue (MAN I need to chill on adverbs) – which I was sure I had only added in later self-edits – cutting unnecessary description which again was the product of my own puppyish over-exuberance and removing things that I had added myself which second-guessed what a reader would already know. It really opened my eyes to my own writing process, and my own self-editing process. I saw, clearly, what I had been doing wrong. A writer (like me) editing their own work is their own worst enemy, but a good editor can be your book’s best friend. I looked at the edits, and I saw how much they improved what I had written, how they made it clearer, how they made it the way it would have been if I hadn’t mucked about with it so much myself. Only more so.
It has made me think about the great editors, like Ezra Pound and Raymond Carver’s editor. They’re not famous for adding things. Less is more is something I firmly believe in, but a mantra I find it depressingly impossible to follow as a writer. It just goes to show what another pair of eyes can achieve – and how wonderful it feels to read your work through the eyes of someone who seems to really get it. Both what you’re trying to say, and how to make that shine through work that you might have muddled in your own excitement.