You can be your own worst enemy. It doesn’t take much and you’re either filled with self doubt or over-confidence. A lot of the time I am not in the ‘happy medium’ between these two perspectives, in fact I let these two factions of myself loose on one another, waiting to see which side will win the battle.
The ‘inner editor’
One prominent member of the self-doubt faction is a version of myself that many artistic/creative types might recognise. Writers talk about something we call out ‘inner-editor’; the little voice inside that makes you procrastinate over a single paragraph rather than get on with the five pages you’re supposed to be writing that day.
He was a noisy, persistent, pedantic, and energy sapping presence for years. One day I found National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and with it I learned how to shut him up (for the most part).
The ‘inner artiste’
However, another character resides in my mind. He’s brooding, wildly passionate about everything, and possesses an unbreakable sense of self-worth. Everything he makes is a masterpiece. A sentence carved an finished to perfection, offered up as bountiful fruits to be enjoyed by the generations of humanity to come.This guy is a pillock. However, I need him. At 2am, when I’m just five-hundred words short of my daily goal the ‘Artiste’ pops out, full of certainty that he can create narrative splendour on four hours sleep, a couple of sandwiches, and fifty cups of tea.
The ‘artiste’ is my ace in the hole. My lifeline. He is the only way I know to get the words down in the time I’ve set myself.
However, what he writes often falls alarmingly short of expectations. When this happens my inner editor jumps out, prepared to gouge whole paragraphs (I don’t think he likes the ‘artiste’ much).
The truth is I reach a point where I can go no further with the tools I have at my disposal. I no longer look to an internal editor. At this moment I need a real-world reader/readers to look at my work, with a critical eye but also (I hope) with a degree of enjoyment of what they’re reading. I need an editor.
The REAL editor
I currently can’t afford the services of a real, fully qualified, editor. I honestly cannot wait for the day I can.However, so far I’ve managed to get by with support from a group of people I regard as ‘beta-testers’. Readers who dive into what I write and who I know will be honest. In some rare cases I’m given detailed notes covering grammar issues, lax areas in storytelling, and continuity errors (I’m an awful one for forgetting which characters are at which locations). (My wife is a great ‘beta-tester’, it’s almost as though tearing me a new one is actually enjoyable for her).
The odd thing about a good editor is that they look at a raw piece of work and see what it could be. Not only that but they have the wherewithal to guide the author to change that raw manuscript into something greater than it would have otherwise been.
Editors gain little credit for this. If (like me) you’re the sort of person who reads acknowledgements you’ll be accustomed to seeing editors receiving high praise. However, this is an often skipped section of a book and so, to all intents and purposes, the editor often goes unacknowledged.
Out there somewhere are a host of individuals who have spent countless hours improving some of your favourite works. You might pass them on the street and never know what they did.
The world’s literature is richer, more nuanced, and more engaging, thanks in a large part to the efforts of a group of unsung heroes. The ‘artiste’ might tear shiny rocks from the ground but it’s the editor who cuts them and polishes them in just the right way to make them shine. (To any editors reading this I apologise for the tired metaphor, I am but a lowly wordsmith).
I’d love to hear your own thoughts on the role of an editor in the creation of a literary work. Please feel free to comment below.
As always, thanks for reading,
All the best, John