…….by looking over the first chapter of an acquaintance’s novel. It’s been a while and I was more than a little nervous, because it’s different editing the work of someone you know (even slightly) than the work of someone you don’t know.
There’s that added pressure of not wanting to hurt or bruise feelings as you go through their words and say, “That sentence strikes a nice image, but take out ten words” or “Reduce that paragraph to two or three lines”. But you gird your loins and you wade in and you do your best to give them clear, concise notes on how to excavate the story buried underneath a mountain of words, like an archaeologist sifts through dirt to find the relics.
Because that’s how I view a completed manuscript – as an archaeological site that is pristine and untouched. Editing is the tool used to dig and sift and brush away the excess to unearth what lies beneath. Michaelangelo had a similar point of view – he didn’t carve the statue of David out of marble, he simply whittled away at the excess, freeing what was already inside the slab.
My own experiences with the editor of my Novel Now Finished taught me a lot as I prepared to go over that first chapter. And I discovered that I still have that skill to edit, to offer notes and suggestions. It was rusty from disuse, but there, and the notes I made for my acquaintance helped him enormously. I feel confident in that skill again. And I plan to move forward and keep doing it. Not only am I working on a marketable skill, but it helps me to improve my own writing.
Complementary skills, writing and editing. And useful.
On Writing by Stephen King