November 2, 2013

Listen to the inner voice

Dear M,

Since we are on the topic of editing, I thought there's one thing we should touch upon. I did briefly talk about it when we spoke of the different aspects of editing, but this deserves special mention and a dedicated blog post.

The editor who reads our story is first and foremost a reader. Not just any ordinary reader. A more focussed reader, a reader who has read a lot of books, a reader who has tried to analyse books and a reader who knows what writing is. Her opinions count, even when we feel that she has been unfair or unkind or even that 'she did not seem to have understood my exceptional piece of prose.' If she hasn't understood it, then it is unlikely that any other reader would.

Having said that, the editor is one among many readers - the way she sees it is not the way another reader would see it. Some of her suggestions on the text may be valid, some may not. For instance, she may say that 'this particular paragraph contrasts sharply with what has been mentioned earlier. Make changes so that this matches with that.' Maybe we have a specific reason for bringing in that ambiguity, maybe we intend to explain it much further, later in the story. But the point remains that she had not caught it. So the takeaway from her comment is that our explanation isn't thorough. We need to make a change, but not necessarily the way she has proposed. Sometimes she may make a grammatical suggestion. Our sentence is grammatically correct, but she has come up with a better or different or more popular way of saying it.

As the author of the brilliant new novel in the block, we own our writing. What we write and what changes we make is up to us. The editor can make only suggestions. Of course, she will also point out glaring errors that we should scamper to correct. But when she makes suggestions on certain points, we are the ones who decide how the change should be made. We could decide that the grammatically correct sentence of ours would stay.

When we get feedback from our editor, it is essential to go through them with an open mind. We expect our story to be beyond all criticism, but I doubt if even the most accomplished writers have attained that level. They too depend on their editors to point out things that have escaped their eyes. So it is quite natural for our editors to come back with a lot of comments. Over time, as we perfect our writing, the comments may wear thin and the mistakes we make in our first draft may reduce.

When the feedback arrives, go through them in our own time, and analyse each, ask ourselves if the comment is valid or can be safely ignored. Listen to our inner voice. Ask it again and again. After we decide the change that has to be made, run it by the editor. Hear what she thinks. The chances are high that once we explain the need to retain what we had written or the change that we plan to make, she would stand by our decision.

Push pride to one side. Pride does not get us a masterpiece, only our openness to correct ourselves will.


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