The art of writing is telepathic, communication in absentia. We can’t see the author’s facial expressions, we can’t hear their inflections as they tell their tale, feel their trembling excitement, smell their fear, nor taste their triumph. The mute shape of words are all that remain, modified by punctuation then stamped onto the page for posterity. Therein lies danger and opportunity, because language is a slippery beast at the best of times, caught up in the context of cultural nicety, prone to ambiguity, and constantly shifting with the whims of our revolving and evolving world. You need only glance at the socials or printed media to see how the carelessly written word can be misconstrued or cynically manipulated to lead readers astray.
What’s a writer to do?
You’ve done your main job, crafting an emotional and/or intellectual journey, for your readers. Let your editors earn their wage. We’ve been working diligently in the background, ensuring that the route you’ve planned takes your travellers round all of the important areas—and that it’s properly signposted so nobody gets lost. Well now we’re going to push you harder, but it’s okay; go with us.
It’s time to do the line edit, tweaking all those little details so every nuance comes through in a lively and engaging fashion. You might hate us a little bit right now, but you’ll thank us later.
Each *trip hazard removed will make their journey easier, but there’s more to an edit than hack and slash; it’s finding the right words and making sure they’re used in the most effective way. This fine polishing is where we get down to the real nitty gritty of the readers’ experience. Good writing sings out loud and clear but, contrary to popular opinion, it’s not the product of some shining God-given talent; it’s the sheer bloody determination of the author and editor to keep honing the manuscript until the words do what they’re supposed to.
Think about all the elements that go into good writing: the theme has to be consistent, the narrative drive clear and sharp; it must be economic yet continue to engage the readers; the characters (in fiction, or the theses in non-fiction) must develop compellingly; the pacing must drive the reader on, but also give them the opportunity to catch their breaths and process all that has come before. It takes a great deal of thought and effort, trial and error to become a master of the craft, and that comes line by painful line, word by painful word.
There is no other way.
It feels exhausting, I know. You’ve worked so hard to hammer out the plot, to getting characters working well as individuals and with each other, you’ve stared at the same damn pages until your eyes bled and this is the point. Unless you can look at it with the help of fresh eyes – those of your editor – you simply won’t see what is needed. Writers can get very protective of their work, of course. Christ, it’s mind-blowing just how many hours and how much raw effort goes into writing something as ephemeral as this blog, let alone a whole damned book, so the idea of having some
picky little prick editor changing all their words making alternative suggestions can be understandably… aggravating to some people, but this is a critical moment.
I spoke earlier of the danger of the written word, and here’s where it looms largest. Fall at this last hurdle – after all your hard work – and your legacy in print will be middling at most. There’s no shame in leaning on someone to make it to the finishing line. A line editor does not (or should not) take your work away from you. We make our suggestions to smooth things out on the micro level, providing the final polish, but you don’t have to accept them blindly. Try it out for size, compare and contrast, make your own tweaks along similar lines to achieve a result that satisfies you.
Your opportunity at this stage is to give it the fine touches and tweaks necessary to elevate your books from a solid and professional effort to something that approaches artistry. To create your very best work – a lasting legacy which gets across exactly what you envisaged in your ideal world, helping people to see things only you have imagined, to feel with full force the depths of emotion (or in the case of non-fiction, the power of your argument). This is the goal, surely: to transmit your thoughts and intentions as perfectly as possible right across the world and down through the years to the minds of every one of your readers.
What else is the point of writing?
* What do I mean by trip hazards? They can be any number of things – from poor grammar or obscure phrasing to unannounced shifts in perspective or missing words – but the effect they produce is always the same: to make the reader stumble on the trail, struggling to comprehend what they’ve just read.
Not sure you need a line edit yet? Check out my other services to see what help I can be.
Got a question? Drop me a line and I’ll do all I can to help.
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