Learn how to self-edit fiction like an editor.
Irma Gold is an both an author and an editor, with four picture books and 18 years of editing experience under her belt, both as a freelance editor and in-house. This weekend, she’ll be teaching a session on how to structurally self-edit your manuscript at the upcoming Editing Bootcamp: A Weekend Intensive. We caught up with Irma on writing, editing and the relationship between them.
You are both a writer and an editor. What are the different kinds of thinking and skills you need for each?
They involve different headspaces, but they complement each other. Editing is a conscious process, whereas for me writing is more unconscious, for the first draft at least. I’m a pantser through and through.
Both are creative. People don’t immediately think of editing as being creative; mainly because the job is incorrectly understood to be all about correcting grammar and spelling. But editing, particularly at the structural stage, is an imaginative and exploratory process.
Editing has made me a better writer, and sharpened my critical faculties in relation to my own work. Conversely, being a writer means I understand what a vulnerable place the editing process can be. That guides me in my working relationships with authors.
It has to be said that writing a book is infinitely harder than editing a book. And as a writer, I need an editor just like everyone else.
How do you know when a manuscript is “ready” for a professional edit, or even for publication?
Given how competitive the contemporary publishing environment is, many writers are electing to employ freelance editors prior to submitting to publishers. A manuscript is ready for this kind of professional edit when the writer has done their best to resolve the manuscript’s issues and can go no further. At this point the objective and discerning eye of a good editor can help the writer take their book to the next level.
In terms of publication, the hardest part is often knowing when to let the book go. Some writers send their work off too soon, others rework it so much that it begins to lose its life force. One of the most effective techniques for distancing yourself from the manuscript in order to make a clear-sighted assessment is to put it aside for several weeks and avoid any temptation to read even parts of it during this time. This allows you to come back to it fresh and see it anew, as much as that is possible, and make a critical judgment about whether it is ready, or still needs further work.
What makes good editing? What advice do you have for aspiring editors?
A good editor works with the author’s voice; they don’t impose their own. I’m fond of comparing editors to chameleons because good editors take on the colours of the manuscript they are working with.
I’ve been teaching editing at the University of Canberra for many years, and during that time I’ve observed that the majority of aspiring editors arrive thinking that editing is directive. That they have to identify everything that is ‘wrong’ with a manuscript and tell the writer how to fix it. This usually involves ripping it apart and putting it back together again in the way that they themselves would write it, since our own idiom is what sounds ‘right’ to us. Part of becoming an editor is learning how to identify and curtail our own idiom, so that the work doesn’t have our fingerprints all over it. It’s important to retain the integrity of the work and edit it on its own terms.
My advice for aspiring editors is the same as for aspiring authors: read everything. Understanding the context in which you are working is key. This seems obvious, but it astonishes me how little many aspiring editors and authors read. There’s a great quote by Stephen King who says (and I’m paraphrasing here) if you don’t read you don’t have the tools to write. And the same is true of editing. To be an editor you have to be a voracious reader.
What should the relationship between an editor and a writer look like?
It’s not directive, it’s collaborative. Ideally you develop a rapport and engage in a robust to-and-fro. The process is like a long conversation. This is how the best work emerges. It’s a privilege to be part of that creative process, and it’s so rewarding when the end result is a work that sings.
What can we expect from your self-editing masterclass during the upcoming Editing Bootcamp?
We’re going to get stuck into the nuts and bolts of how to undertake a structural edit on a finished first draft of a fiction manuscript, breaking it down into manageable chunks. We’ll be examining a range of issues that editors commonly see at this stage, and looking at different strategies for resolving them. Participants will go away equipped with the tools to wrestle their first draft into fine shape.
Irma Gold has worked as an editor for 18 years, both freelance and in-house. She is currently Editor at Melbourne publisher Inkerman & Blunt and Convener of Editing at the University of Canberra. Irma is also an award-winning author whose short fiction has been widely published in Australia’s most prestigious literary journals. Her short fiction collection, Two Steps Forward,was shortlisted for or won a number of awards, and her debut novel manuscript recently won the NSW Writers Centre Varuna Fellowship. Her fourth children’s picture book will be published by Walker Books. Working as both an author and editor, Irma is experienced in both sides of the publishing process. Visit her at irmagold.com