Claire King

Author
Claire King Edited Choices (10 of 10)

Posts Tagged ‘editing’

I can’t read; I’ve been possessed.

Posted on: August 19th, 2012 by Claire - 6 Comments

I’m going to try and share a strange image with you. And the question at the end is – does anyone else feel like this?

I love reading, and honestly believe that as a writer you have to keep on reading. It nourishes and inspires and I think you can learn from it by absorption. Plus, you know, reading is brilliant.

But I’ve got to in the stages of editing where reading seems like a distraction. I remember this from last time – reaching a point where I had to wave au revoir to my to-read pile, and give myself up to the novel I’m writing.

It’s as though there is only one story, and I have to somehow fit it all in my head, see it all in three dimensions, turn it, live it. Again and again. It’s a little like being possessed.

 

There, I said it. Is it just me?

Editing is turning the pot.

Posted on: August 14th, 2012 by Claire - 6 Comments


I like editing.

I find writing a first draft of a novel like digging the clay from the ground with my fingernails. Sometimes I hit a rich seam, other days I’m scraping at scraps and wondering if there’s any clay left to find. But it all builds up eventually and you end up with enough – more than enough – words for a novel. But they are so not in the right order. And the pile of words looks nothing like a story.

Editing is turning a pot. It feels much closer to creating the vision I have in my head. In fact, when I was editing The Night Rainbow two years ago I wrote this.

The second draft (after the first edit) looks more or less like a finished piece – let’s say a vase. You can at least tell what it’s supposed to be. But it’s still ugly and the flowers would sit badly in it. This is assuming of course that it hasn’t gone all wobbly and you’ve had to start again. That can happen. Sometimes more than once…

The third draft will look much better though. The nuances start to shine through.

Still you keep going. With every spin of the wheel you find another imperfection, and as you correct it you notice that it now shows up other flaws. Will this thing ever be perfect? Will it ever be good enough?

Eventually there will come a time to say yes. But I’m not there yet with this book. I’m only just finishing the second draft and looking forward to the first round of polishing. And the next…and the next.

—————————————————————–

Of course it still won’t be finished, not for this book – first it’s off to my agent and then my publisher and then there’ll be (touch wood) a whole new set of edits. If you’re interested in my experience of the firing, painting and glazing process you can find out more in these posts:

Publishing editor’s line editsCopyedits and Proofs. And not forgetting the book covers!

Photo above via Flickr Creative commons. For (c) see here. 

The Novel Edits (Part 2)

Posted on: January 25th, 2012 by Claire - 24 Comments

In September I met my editor, Helen, to go through the structural edits for The Night Rainbow. If you missed it, you can read about that here. The next part of the editing process, which happened in quite a whirl last week, was the copyedits.

I thought that the copyeditor was there to ‘correct my mistakes’. I was really looking forward to what she would find, because before submitting I’d already done many passes of edits for typos, punctuation, and grammatical errors. I’d also paid attention to ‘continuity’, drawing up detailed maps of locations and timelines with character clothing, mealtimes etc. I didn’t go so far as a style sheet, but I’d thought about it.

Last week was quite an education…

My copyeditor got in touch and she said my book was ‘astonishing’. I loved her immediately. She said she was sending over the queries, and that there ‘weren’t many’. There were, in fact, 10 pages of them. 175 in total. And these were just the queries – obvious typos and missing punctuation had already been corrected without bothering me.

The copyedit was much more than ‘just’ about correcting mistakes. Yes there were some, but attention was also paid to to smoothing out inconsistencies in style, for example where I had used ‘grownup’ vs ‘grown up’. My editor also checked facts, questioning things as odd as ‘are puffballs safe to eat?’ and the correct references made to music. Despite my best efforts there were still ‘continuity’ queries – one minute a door was closed, the next it was open…

Responding to the queries took hours and hours. Agreeing that I should change from one kind of punctuation to another was an easy one. But where the suggestion was to choose a different word or re-phrase something it was much harder. Even though I could agree that it was necessary, working within the vocabulary limits of the narrator took a lot of thought and deliberation.

By the time I reached the end of the query list I was feeling quite anxious. Had I managed to get back into the ‘voice’ of the book seamlessly? Had I made the ‘right’ changes? And what about all the mistakes? As soon as a query drew my attention to something I then spotted the same mistake over and over in the text. Even though my editor had told me that she only queried something once and then it would apply throughout, it was very unnerving to see the repeated mistakes and inconsistencies cropping up again and again.

But the biggest revelation for me last week was that my copyeditor not only understood the rules of spelling, grammar and punctuation (of course), she also understood where I had intentionally broken the rules to use punctuation or rythym creatively. She understood my intention.

Then she worked with that intention, with my rules, to make the writing more elegant, so the words didn’t get in the way of the story.

The whole experience was really impressive, and I found myself enormously grateful that such painstaking attention is being lavished on my book.

Once the queries were dealt with and the TS returned to Bloomsbury,  I asked my lovely copyeditor, Sarah-Jane Forder, if she wouldn’t mind answering a few questions:

1) I edited The Night Rainbow many times before I submitted it. I would have said I went through it with a fine toothed comb. And yet I had 175 queries in total, which you described as ‘very few’! If we imagine I’m towards one end of the spectrum, what does the other end look like?

It was obvious to me when I first read your TS that I was dealing with a very meticulous author. Yes, there were odd things you’d missed in however many edits but that is always the way. I missed things too, which you picked up: remember? My point about the relatively few number of queries, and the absolute ease of my job, was that they were minor things: the odd bit of punctuation here, a tiny bit of garbled text there. Nothing major whatsoever. Many authors, believe me, have neither your eye nor your ear. When you answered my queries you did so with confidence, saying no when you knew absolutely what you wanted. Which is a wordy way of saying that the other end of the spectrum might have multiple typing errors and inconsistencies as well as careless repetition, holes in the plot and characters whose eyes change from blue to brown according to the weather.

2) Many of your queries represented changes that needed applying several times through the book and after you’d mentioned something once I came across dozens of subsequent errors that I’d made (consistency of spellings etc.) Do authors get ‘better’ at noticing these, the more books they write? So fewer slip through to copyedit stage?
I think, the more they write, authors do become aware of certain tics in their writing: words and phrases they perhaps rely on; that sort of thing. It’s great if an author can get it near on 100 per cent accurate (Anita Brookner, whom I copyedited at Cape, was one), but they are rare.
I have to say that I don’t regard picking up spelling mistakes or typos necessarily as part of writing: you can be dyslexic and still express yourself fluently and vividly and with originality, which is the really important thing. If writers made no errors whatsoever, what about us poor copyeditors? You’d be doing us out of a job!

 

3) In terms of your process – do you read the book first as a ‘reader’, or immediately with an editor’s eye?

I always do a first read as a reader, or as near as I can get to a reader when I’m working (you’ve sussed that in my leisure time I read in an entirely different way), with an eye out for plot, pacing, characterisation and so on. I will also at that point make a note of any inconsistencies of style (‘girl-nest’!) and make a ‘style chart’ to follow for the edit proper. The edit proper is slower, and usually said out loud in my head. I find it helps to hear the words – you yourself mentioned rhythm and I think that’s really important.

 

4) How did you become a copyeditor? What do you like about the job?

 

I fell into copyediting! I graduated in English with a vague idea of going into publishing: no more than that. I was lucky enough to be appointed at Jonathan Cape as an editorial assistant working with Liz Calder, one of the top literary fiction editors at that time. Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Martin Amis, John Fowles, Anita Brookner, Ian McEwan: they were all Cape authors. Later, when Liz went to set up Bloomsbury, I followed her. 

I’ll be honest: the job can be extremely tedious (depends what you’re working on!) but it’s always fascinating to work one to one with authors; it can feel like a real privilege, in fact. There’s the satisfaction of making a difference, however small. The devil’s in the detail! Having been freelance now for about 15 years, one of the things I love about my job is being able to work from home, at no one’s beck and call. I like the freedom, I like the quiet! The money sucks: you don’t go into it expecting to become rich. But I specialise in editing literary fiction, and how can you put a price on the pleasure of being paid to read wonderful writing?

 

Huge thanks to Sarah-Jane for taking the time to answer these questions in her busy schedule. I hope you find them as illuminating as I did.

Next steps for The Night Rainbow? First Pages for proofreading in a few weeks, and the cover! It’s also off for translation. Still a year to go until publication, but we’re well on our way!

Bad Nut!

Posted on: July 13th, 2011 by Claire - 4 Comments

Today I was pickling walnuts. A couple of weeks ago I had picked them, and tested them all with a needle to see if the shell had started forming. At that stage quite a few nuts required me to insist quite firmly with the needle before it broke in. Hmm, I thought, maybe they’ll be OK after they’ve been soaked…

So I soaked them all for two weeks, changing the brine regularly. Then I rinsed them assiduously and left them to dry.

Before pickling the walnuts, so as to ensure I am not responsible for breaking the teeth of my friends and family this autumn, I decided to double check again with the needle. A little voice inside was reminding me how my standards on the first cut had not been exactly…exacting.

I tested a few walnuts that were fine. Then I hit a rather hard one, but eventually the needle prevailed.

Hmmm. I like pickled walnuts. I put it in a ‘maybe’ pile.

One by one, I tested the walnuts. There were a few that were simply rock solid. There was no way around the fact that they were dental insurance claims waiting to happen. Bad Nuts! I put them in a ‘No!’ pile and congratulated myself on my ruthlessness.

There were a few where the needle wouldn’t penetrate the stalk end, but a quick poke in the middle and it slipped right in. I put them in a ‘Not sure: To Re-test’ pile.

I then re-tested the ‘Maybe’ and ‘Not sure’ piles, my decisions somewhat swayed, I must admit, by the meagre nature of the ‘Yes’ pile. Some of them I allowed to pass muster. Some, upon consideration, I felt were quite risky, especially considering Granny’s dentures, and I sadly rejected them.

With others I was still uncertain. I dithered, I re-poked. I looked sadly at the paltry yes pile. Surely more nuts would be better even if some of them were slightly crunchy. Surely?

No?

I sighed, I re-tested again. And finally, since it was soon time to get them in the jars before the children needed feeding I finally laid down The Rule.

The Rule: If the needle doesn’t push in at the stalk end it’s a Bad Nut. No exceptions.

I re-needled. I discarded many nuts. And then I looked at my champion nuts and they were good.

And when I felt the happiness of my Good Nut pile it reminded me of my happiness when I had finished my third and final edit, when I was ready to submit, when I had bravely discarded all the ‘Not sure’ and ‘Maybe’ parts of my novel. And I knew in my gut that even if people didn’t like my particular style of pickle, at least they wouldn’t break any teeth.

And the moral of the story – A Bad Nut is a Bad Nut, no matter how many times you poke it. Stop prevaricating and go with your gut feeling. Save yourself time that could be better spent writing and bin Bad Nuts on the first read.*

*NB – You can always go green and recycle them if it makes you feel better. See my post from this time last year ‘The Cutting Room Floor’ , but note also that I never used any of my offcuts after all…

Update: October 2011 and the walnuts are ready for eating. Guess what, they taste great…but one or two have them slipped through the net and are still too crunchy for comfort. I guess what my nuts needed was an editor.

Interview with Literary Agent Annette Green and Author Maria McCann

Posted on: April 6th, 2011 by Claire - 11 Comments

In recent months, literary agencies have been branching out into offering mentoring and consulting services to aspiring authors looking for trustworthy advice on their manuscripts. In this post I interview Annette Green, whose literary agency now offers the Creative Writing Consultancy service, whereby experienced authors (who also work as creative writing teachers) signed to the agency provide editorial feedback and advice. Maria McCann will be one of those authors. She also answers my questions about her expectations of this initiative:

Annette Green

Annette Green runs her own literary agency, which she founded in 1998 after several years at A M Heath & Co. She is also my agent (woop!)

 

Claire:

Annette, Your agency is a team of two agents, meaning that every writer gets your personal attention. How do you balance working with current clients and the attention required by the large amount of submissions you receive?

Annette:

Well, obviously we have to prioritise.  We made a decision a long time ago not to use outside readers, simply because we didn’t feel comfortable with trusting a third party not to miss something which might have seemed an unlikely project but which we might respond to differently.  This means that we do have to read –  at least partially – every submission we receive.  Material arrives by post at the same rate as ever, but now we regularly receive a lot of email submissions too, so we do spend quite a lot of time dealing with these.  However, the vast majority of material we receive is easy to assess quickly, because we can tell if someone can write and if their story is strong just by reading the synopsis and a few pages.  If we’re grabbed we’ll read on, but I’ll be honest and say that we certainly don’t always feel compelled to read an entire submission.

As for the balance, although it’s important for us to be alert to talented new authors it’s imperative that our service to our existing clients doesn’t suffer.  Questions need to be answered, advice given, updates provided, troubleshooting undertaken, statements prepared, payments made, deals negotiated.  The reality is that we deal with unsolicited submissions in the gaps in between.  If something outstanding arrives out of the blue while we’re in the middle of some very important work for a client, we may not be able to pay attention to it immediately, but we’ll make sure we get to it as quickly as other obligations allow.  It does make work patterns slightly unpredictable, because you can’t plan for the unexpected arrival of a brilliant new script, but it’s possible to keep the diversion to a minimum.

Claire:

If you were to classify your submissions pile, what proportion of them are ‘not even close’, what proportion are ‘great but not for us’, how many are ‘close but no cigar’ and how many are real gems that have you reaching for the telephone?

Annette:

This is an interesting question.  It’s hard to give a precise idea, because we don’t keep a log of what we receive or a record of how we rated things – that would just be a waste of time.  For one thing, I wouldn’t really ever say ‘great but not for us’ because if I can see that something is great I’ll probably want to take it on.  We don’t specialise as some agencies do – whatever the material, if it’s excellent it’s for us, irrespective of genre or age group.  So, I would say that somewhere between 80% and 90% are not even close, sadly.  Obviously within that group there is a huge variation – at the bottom end is material that is not even literate and at the top end there is writing that is simply workmanlike and uninspiring.  Then I’d probably say the next 8% are ‘close but no cigar’, where we find material that is very impressive in all kinds of ways, but doesn’t have the extra factor to make it leap above the shoulders of everything else.  Which, if my maths is correct, leaves us with about 2% of submissions making us excitedly reach for the phone to call the author and offer representation.

Claire:

What prompted you to offer the Creative Writing Consultancy service through your literary agency? Will all applications be accepted or is there a sifting process?

Annette:

As you can see from what I’ve said above, we receive a huge number of submissions, some of which are workmanlike, with a glimmer of potential but no more.  For practical reasons of time and resources when we reject submissions everyone is treated the same.  Many people ask for feedback and advice, but it’s simply not possible to give it in a business where time is precious.  But I’ve long thought it was a shame that writers with a degree of talent were being given no encouragement or constructive response to their work.  The only obvious solution to this was to find a way to make advice available.  It would have to be paid for of course, but given that a number of our clients are experienced creative writing teachers we have access to a large pool of knowledge and ability.  I’m not saying that every writer we reject will be explicitly invited to use the service, but it is clear on our website that it’s available to everyone.

In answer to your second question, although the service is available to everyone, in reality there will have to be a sifting process.  It simply wouldn’t be ethical to take money from someone who clearly is never going to be a publishable writer, no matter how good the quality of the help and advice our clients can provide.  There can’t be hard and fast criteria for deciding what to exclude, but we’ll judge every case individually in the interest of fairness to everyone involved.

4) How do you envisage this service working in practice? Should people consider using the service before submitting to you, or will you accept re-submissions that have been through this editing process? Clearly there is never a guarantee of representation  – what advice would you give to writers?

The service – like others in the market – is available to all applicants, not just people whose work we have rejected.  The question of whether people should use the service before submitting to us is one that only the individual writers can decide.  Often, talented writers know when something is not right with their work.  On a number of occasions over the years we’ve read scripts that were generally very good, but which suffered from fatal flaws in structure or tone or pacing or characterisation, and when we’ve said as much, the writer has admitted that he or she always felt the same, but hoped we wouldn’t notice.  If a writer believes in their talent, but also has enough reason to doubt that a script is really working as well as it should, then they should certainly consider using the service.  A gift for creative writing can’t be taught, but there are techniques for turning raw talent into professional skill, and that’s what we aim to do.

As for re-submissions, yes, if we judged that a piece of work would benefit from the help of one of our mentors, then after they’ve worked on it we’d be more than happy to reconsider.  No, we can’t guarantee representation, but there’s a possibility that something we read when it was very good has now been turned into something great, then we’d be crazy not to reconsider it.

 

Maria McCann

Maria McCann is a novelist, lecturer in English and an Arvon Foundation mentor. Her most recent novel is The Wilding, published in February 2010 by Faber.

 

Claire:

What has your experience as an author taught you about the editing process?

Maria:

That it is a form of creativity.   Writers are often told ‘don’t get it right, get it written’ and that paying too much attention to correctness in the first draft can dry you up.  My experience is that this advice is helpful to some people but not to others. It’s true that our creative impulses can be inhibited by too great attention to correctness.  On the other hand, many writers feel a compelling need to correct as they go and sometimes use it as a way of ‘getting back into the zone’ when they first sit down at their computer.

Most of the time this ‘editing’ that people do as they go along is really proofreading.  It has to be done at some stage and though it brings its own satisfaction, few people find it exciting.  The most creative kind of editing is when we sit down and think about where the heart of the book lies and what is mere flab that can be cut away to reveal the work’s true shape.  Inexperienced writers sometimes find this painful, especially when it means sacrificing a cherished scene, but being willing to commit to it is an important aspect of professionalism.  Many talented people are never published because they prefer to avoid this work by immediately starting another book, yet with experience, writers come to relish the editing process and the possibilities it opens up.  In fact, some love this stage more than the initial drafting.

The writer’s relationship with the book is passionate.  An editor supplies the necessary detachment to see what needs to be put in place, so that readers can feel equally passionate about it.   It all serves the text, which means it’s all creative work.

Claire:

What will your experience and perspective bring to writers who choose to use this service?

Maria:

I’ve spent many years working with writers of widely varying abilities: some who were struggling with basic grammar, some whose work was of a very high standard when I first met them.  They were of all ages (with quite a few late starters) and all levels of education.  I’m currently mentoring three fiction writers for the Arvon Foundation, which is a new experience and a very different kind of relationship.  Some of the writers I worked with have gone on to find an agent.  They haven’t been the only ones with sufficient talent to do so; they have been the ones with sufficient belief in themselves to invest that last little bit of effort.  That’s what I would hope to bring to writers using the service: encouraging them to have the self-belief to make the effort.  I don’t mean telling someone that work is publishable when it isn’t, but showing clearly what needs to be done to get the book to a better standard and supporting the writer in that process.

Claire:

If you could go back in time and give your unpublished-self some advice, what would it be?

Maria:

Ignore the inner voice that bullies you: ‘You’re no good!  The book won’t sell!  Your teacher was right!  You’ll make a fool of yourself!’  This voice is the enemy of creativity and attacks wherever you are vulnerable.  If you shut it up, you may hear a quiet but persistent voice saying, ‘Chapter 4 still isn’t right, you know.’  Pay attention because this voice is your best friend.  Learn to distinguish between the two voices and treat them accordingly.


Many, many thanks to Annette and Maria for taking the time out of their busy schedules to answer my questions!

 

The Cutting Room Floor

Posted on: July 12th, 2010 by Claire - 11 Comments

The much quoted and rather brilliant Kurt Vonnegut gave us eight rules for writing fiction. I’m not a fan of rules, so I have taken them as useful suggestions. One of which is particularly resonant at editing time:

“Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action”

And so, after the first draft is written, we are supposed to set about killing our darlings. Words, sentences, paragraphs, whole swathes of narrative that may be beautifully crafted, descriptive, witty or heart stopping…but are completely extraneous to both the plot and the character.
In the film industry, the cutting room floor is not so terminal. Scenes that didn’t make it into the finished movie are stored tidily, just in case they should ever be needed again. This appeals to the part of me that kept all my university essays for fifteen years and five house moves. To the part of me that finds it hard to discard even one of the drawings that my artistically prolific little girls produce. To the part of me that has kept letters for thirty years, bundled up in ribbons, even though the sentiments have long since faded.

And so, I confess to you here, my darlings are not dead. I couldn’t do it. Instead they are cut and pasted into their own offcuts file, just in case I should ever need to splice them back in.

This may seem like taking the easy way out, but who is it hurting? It gave me the courage to chop away with gay abandon at my manuscript, and it’s not like they take up any room in the attic.

If it isn’t David it has to go.

Posted on: May 19th, 2010 by Claire - 9 Comments

I can see it. Crystal clear, in full colour. It is perfect, precise, evocative. It will take the reader by the heart and suck them in.
People will say ‘I couldn’t put it down’ and ‘I cried for her’ and ‘You MUST read it’. Truly, it’s a masterpiece, I wish I could share it with you.
But it’s not there yet.

Yep, I’m editing.

Not quite there yet

Michelangelo said it well:
“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

So here I am, hewing.

As an aside, today my hewing is encouraged enormously by my short story ‘Wine At Breakfast’ making the Bristol Prize long list. It’s true! You can see my name and 39 other short story clever clogs right [ here ]

 

This photo via Flickr Creative Commons, taken from a German advertisement.

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