Writing

  • 9 reasons why you don’t need an editor

    9 reasons why you don't need an editor
    9 reasons why you don’t need an editor

    So, you want to publish your novel yourself. Here’s 9 reasons why you don’t need an editor.

    Reason #1: Your novel is perfect as it is

    Yeah, umm… probably not. Next…

    #Reason #2: Your mother loved it. LOVED it

    Is your mother an editor? If she is, does she have the objectivity to be honest with you? Or might she worry that being honest will wreck your relationship?!

    Reason #3: Your best friend promised to give you feedback

    There’s nothing wrong with getting a friend to read your book. BUT, if they’re doing it as a favour, you have to wait until they’re ready. When they made that promise, they never factored in the length of the book, how long it would take them, or their own confidence in their critical skills.

    In fact, once it lands in their inbox, they might well procrastinate until the cows come home.

    Likewise, beta readers often vanish, don’t bother to respond, or fail to give sufficient feedback. If you have good beta readers, they are worth a lot, but they’re not editors and once you’ve ironed out their concerns, that takes you to the next level.

    The next level involves technical issues like structure, point of view, head hopping, show versus tell, and a whole bunch of other things.

    There are so many balls to juggle when you’re writing. Did you drop any?

    Did the beta readers or your pal notice that someone exited stage right on page 83, never to be seen again, even though they kind of seemed like an important secondary character?

    Reason #4: Editing is a waste of money

    Here’s the thing, if you’ve written a novel, you’ve already put a huuuugeee amount of time into it.

    And time, as they say, is money. You could have made other choices on how to spend your time. For example, you could have set up a side hustle. But you decided to write a book instead.

    So, you have invested a lot of time, energy, thought, ambition, and hope in your work.

    Why?

    Do you hope people will buy it? This means putting it into the marketplace where it has to compete with other books. Potential readers can download a Kindle sample and check it out. If there are problems with the opening chapters, they will bail out.

    If you don’t mean to send it off to an agent or publish yourself then it’s true you don’t need an editor. There is one exception – if you want to do better next time. Then it might be worth investing in professional feedback to take your skills to the next level.

    Then again, you could save money and join a good writing group.

    Reason #5: I’m shelling out for a book cover. What more do I want?

    Bad covers can kill reader interest. Good covers still need good content.

    Imagine a reader excited by the cover art, the genre, the blurb, only to give up before they get to the end of the first chapter.

    Maybe your story fails to start, the characters are boring, or your worldbuilding is taking over the book.

    Maybe your story is just plain boring, and they want to throw the book at the wall.

    As a developmental editor, I’ve had indie authors come to me after their book has been published, so I can fix their mistakes. So, they still needed an edit after all.

    Reason #6: I’m only doing this as a hobby

    And that’s fine. Some people genuinely don’t care if anyone reads their book.

    For some people, writing a book is on their bucket list, and once it’s done, it’s over. In which case, you might well choose to skip editing.

    But if you’re hoping that book gets some readers, it’s probably best to get some input.

    Reason #7: You don’t need to spend money to publish a book these days

    It’s true you can skip editing, design your own cover, do your own marketing, and so on. You might have a free blog you can use and you have Twitter and Facebook for promotion.

    But, here’s the thing, so do loads of other people. Thousands upon thousands of them.

    Have you ever hung around the #writerslift hashtag on Twitter? So many people promoting their books in the desperate hope that they’ll grab a few more readers.

    Often they’re promoting more to other writers, who don’t necessarily have the time to buy or read all those books.

    You need to appeal more to readers.

    Yes, readers can also be writers. But whoever you promote to, things like cover design, genre, plot, and sample opening pages will be the deciding factor for a lot of people.

    To beat the competition, your book needs to be polished, and that includes editing.

    Reason #8: Your novel is a staggering work of genius already. Who needs a fucking edit?

    Who indeed? Well, you, actually. No one writes a genius novel, perfectly polished, no flabby bits, plot holes, saggy middles, or weak endings. No head hopping.

    Oh wait, was the head hopping deliberate? Like a stylistic choice?

    Uh-huh.

    Reason #9: Some mate on Twitter says you don’t need an editor and they’ve never used one

    Did your mate do well with their own book? Might they have had an unfortunate encounter with an editor? Perhaps they’re still gnashing their teeth over negative feedback and now they have an axe to grind.

    Some people do display a strange amount of anger towards editors. It’s almost as if they think editors are out to get them, destroy their cherished dreams, murder their first-born child (their book).

    In reality, most editors get into this business because they love reading and they love books. They feel passionately about helping writers become better authors. They want to see their clients do well.

    Still, there’s no law that says you need an editor.

    The truth is, for indie authors, you can do what you want. You can choose where to focus your attention – marketing, cover art and design, the various levels of editing, etc.

    There’s no doubt that addressing everything comes with a price tag attached. A price you don’t have to pay when you have a traditional publisher to cover the costs for you. So, compromises may have to be made. Corners cut.

    It might come down to leaving out a round of editing or relying on beta readers to try and pick up your developmental issues.

    If you see indie publishing as a business, then you will definitely come to understand the costs of doing business.

    In business, it’s normal to hire contractors. In serious indie publishing, it’s no different. Budgeting for this is a topic for another day.

    So, there you have it, 9 reasons why you don’t need an editor.

    But if you are looking for a developmental editor, you can check out my post on the difference between a developmental edit and a manuscript critique.

    Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash

  • Don’t take too long to start your novel

    Don't take too long to start your novel.
    Don’t take too long to start your novel

    So, you have a story you want to tell. You’ve been thinking about it for years. It would make a perfect novel. When you finally get round to putting it down on paper, you’ll know exactly what the characters are like, you’ll know how they interact, and you’ll already know how it ends.

    All that’s required is the time needed to sit down and write it. Plus motivation and lack of distractions.

    But is your novel really as well planned as you think? Are you sure you understand your characters, let alone how they interact with one another? Is that ending really credible? Have you ever thought about the structure of your story? Do you understand how story structure works? If you’ve never written a story, let alone a novel, you’re already in trouble.

    When you finally write your story, you might force your characters to do exactly what you’ve imagined all those years, forgetting that characters on the page must be organic. They must be natural and credible and as close to real people as it’s possible to get. If you turn them into puppets, performing at your will, readers will know, and they will lose interest.

    And those plot twists might not work out the way you thought. Perhaps they happen too early, or too late. And when you finally show your story to others, the ending doesn’t work at all. But if you’ve spent years imagining all the details in your head, the danger is you’re so attached to your unwritten ideal of a novel that you won’t make any compromises.

    The characters, the locations, and the plot must be just so. It’s what you’ve planned. You thought it out. You thought about it on your way to work, soaking in the bath, or lying in bed at night.

    And when you finally write your story, then show it to others, you might resist the best of advice.

    Because you have an ideal story in your head, which is ideal to you, which plays out like a film, except that you don’t really understand how films are structured either.

    Don’t take too long to start your novel

    It’s best not to spend too much time thinking about your story. The longer you leave it, the harder it can be to make the sacrifices necessary to bring it into the world in a decent shape.

    If you insist that the ending must be so because that’s what you planned all those years ago, you’ve already lost. Endings should be a natural consequence of the plot and characterisation, the final domino falling into place.

    With novels, things rarely go to plan. Those characters you thought would get on, only do so because you force them to. It’s perfectly clear to any reader that they’re incompatible and their relationship makes no sense.

    The ending comes out of the blue because you didn’t want your readers to guess the twist, and you never learned about foreshadowing. Meanwhile, your poor beta readers think the twist makes no sense.

    There’s no point creating the perfect novel in your head, that book you’ll write one day… you know, that day when you finally have the time. The longer you put it off, the harder it’s going to be. And that little ego voice that says you don’t need to learn about characterisation, structure, foreshadowing and so on… that little voice is not your friend.

    It’s time to bite the bullet. By all means start plotting it out on paper. Write up character studies. But don’t run the risk of spending too much time plotting on paper or your enthusiasm will be spent before you write a first draft.

    Don’t spend years dreaming about your novel. Don’t become so attached to all those characters and plans that you sabotage a good idea because you let it set in stone. And don’t spend too long plotting it out on paper. Learn your craft, be prepared for your characters to surprise you, and don’t count on that ending working. Always be open to new ideas, new characters, and new twists. Your novel should be an adventure for you as much as the reader.

    Don’t take too long to start your novel. Stop dreaming and start writing.

    Are you a fiction writer or memoirist? Do you need a professional manuscript critique or developmental edit? I’m a fully trained member of the Editorial Freelancers Association. Check out my services page.

  • Location sketches – The French Chateau

    The French Chateau

    When you’re researching a novel location, and trying to familiarise yourself with your setting, immerse yourself in imagery/photos as well as textual information. Then try and do some location word sketches. Set time aside for this, dig deep into your location, write as much detail as you like, and keep it all in a file. Don’t write it directly into your novel. Just dip into the file when you need to flesh out your setting more.

    I tried this myself for a story set in a chateau. I came up with these random thoughts after reading The French Chateau by Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery and Jean-Bernard Naudin, Thames & Hudson.

    So many panelled walls, some painted grey-blue, some stencilled, or decorated with rich wallpapers. Centuries-old paintings hang in gilt frames, fading tapestries depict country pursuits, and baroque clocks sit on ornate mantelpieces. French windows stand open, revealing the lush green foliage of the park beyond.

    In the bedrooms are richly dressed testers, or beautiful ottoman beds in alcoves behind damask drapes. Sometimes the fabric is faded with age, other times it’s vibrant, full of colour. The bed linen is crisp and white, embroidered, and the flowered counterpanes are pale yellow or blue, or a rich red damask.

    In the linen room, huge presses are thrown open to reveal shelves of neatly folded fabric. On a large table, napkins are tied in bundles with pink ribbon.

    One inhabitant of a chateau remembers the linen room of his childhood, the “damp, steamy, oddly fragrant odour” and the “dance of the flat irons which the women stood right on the glowing coals in the hearth, then snatched up and held near their cheek to test the temperature.”

    On Saturdays, the linen was changed, and the same day, a clockmaker came to wind up all the clocks in the house. “Tracing a circle on the dial with his finger to start the hands moving, he would then set the pendulum swinging steadily, then the chimes which seemed to mark the breathing of time. He brought life back into the rooms as he passed through them….”

    On the dining room table there’s Venetian glass, silver gilt cutlery, and Sèvres porcelain plates, and there’s memories too of the great dinners of past years: “Cream soup, fish, a variety of poultry – turkey, guinea-fowl or chicken – followed by roasts with vegetables, then well-chosen sweets… The wines, chilled or at perfect room temperature, were served by the butler, who murmured the name and year of the vintage to each guest….”

    In the wine cellars bottles are covered in cobwebs, yellow labels peeling at the corners. In the grounds, statues rise up among the greenery, and topiary animals populate a garden zoo. Ornamental lakes reflect the stone and brick of a French Renaissance house, and water spouts from the mouth of a stone dolphin. At night, the chateau is lit up, golden in the darkness, chandeliers glittering through the windows. And in winter, while the Christmas preparations are underway, snow lies like icing sugar across the lawns, hedges, balustrades, and stone staircases.

    And everywhere in the house, in every room, flowers from the garden, fresh or dried, elaborately arranged on mantelpieces and tables. And walking sticks and shooting sticks stand in a corner of a hallway, and the library is stocked from floor to ceiling and the fire crackles in the hearth, and a labrador lies sleeping on the stairs, and the clocks tick on, tick on, down the years….

    Are you a fiction writer or memoirist? Do you need a professional manuscript critique or developmental edit? Check out my services page.

  • Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith – Andrew Wilson (2004)

    Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith - Andrew Wilson (2004)
    Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith

    Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith (2004)

    In Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith, the Whitbread-shortlisted biography by Andrew Wilson, Patricia Highsmith is shown to be a woman who never found true happiness. Condemned by her own psychology to seek out inappropriate and often unavailable women, she never had a relationship that lasted longer than a few years.

    An almost life-long alcoholic, Highsmith’s happiest moments came from writing. She was misanthropic, lonely, shy, often hiding behind her curtain of black hair.

    But she was a brilliant writer, unappreciated in her own country, the United States, where publishers were obsessed with the categorisation of fiction. Highsmith’s fiction, like the woman herself, defied categorisation.

     

    Highsmith’s childhood and college years

    As Andrew Wilson elegantly illustrates in Beautiful Shadow, the writer’s problems began early in life, in her family circumstances. Her biological father was almost unknown to her. She was raised by her mother and stepfather (who gave her the Highsmith name.)

    The Oedipal complex is given a twist here since the young girl had an intense love for her mother, and a desire to kill her stepfather. Highsmith’s difficult love-hate relationship with her mother, Mary, lay at the root of her problems with women, as Highsmith herself recognised:

    “I am married to my mother I shall never wed another.”

    Her mother, meanwhile, could see the teenage Highsmith was not “normal” and at one point advised her to “straighten up and fly right.”

    Although her sexuality was not clear-cut, Highsmith on the whole preferred women. But she constantly engaged in fantasy relationships with unavailable heterosexual women, or became involved with difficult or controlling partners.

    Patricia Highsmith’s feelings about herself as a woman were complicated by the fact that she saw herself at times as having a male identity. Although very beautiful, she had a tendency to dress slightly butch, softening it with a necklace or lipstick.

    Her fellow students at the all-female Barnard College thought she seemed “dashing.” She was certainly promiscuous, successfully luring both straight and non-heterosexual women into her bed.

     

    Trying (and failing) to go straight

    For a time, during a relationship with a man she hoped to marry, she underwent analysis, in the hopes of turning herself heterosexual. Her biographer records this well, setting it within the context of psychoanalytic attitudes of the period. As Wilson points out, the therapist’s interpretation of Highsmith’s case was “laughably simplistic and over-dependent on Freudian theory.”

    Not only that, such practitioners failed to recognise that Freud did not believe in “curing” homosexuals, but instead in counselling them into accepting their sexuality. Pat’s therapist recommended group therapy alongside married women with latent homosexual tendencies. Writing in her diary, Highsmith mused:

    “Perhaps I shall amuse myself by seducing a couple of them.”

    Needless to say, the therapy proved useless.

     

    Highsmith the diarist

    Highsmith was a passionate diarist. She left countless “cahiers,” her notebook/diaries which Wilson had access to. These cahiers go back to her youth. Consequently, the biography is very detailed, and the reader gets the impression that Wilson’s book could have been double or triple the size.

    One of the frustrating things is the inability to go into greater detail about individual episodes. This is not Wilson’s fault though, because he’s dealing with a huge volume of information. But it would be fascinating to read more of Highsmith’s words directly and perhaps it might be possible in some other book in the future.

    On the other hand, because of the density of information, it would be possible to read this biography a second time and get even more out of it. Particularly if read in conjunction with her work, which Wilson analyses.

    Highsmith’s cahiers are a vital insight into her personal life, her psychology, and her mindset as a writer. From them, Wilson has been able to construct how Strangers on a Train came into being. And also where her most famous character, Ripley, came from.

    Something else that becomes obvious is the way she used her infatuations with women in her work.

     

    The Price of Salt (Carol)

    Her lesbian novel, The Price of Salt (now Carol) was inspired by a woman, Kathleen Senn, who walked into the toy department of Bloomingdale’s where the twenty-seven-year-old Highsmith was working temporarily. Highsmith was immediately smitten with Senn but never met her again.

    However, she later tracked the woman down to her address. There she saw her in a car as it backed out the driveway and headed towards her. Writing about it later in her diary, Highsmith said:

    “For the curious thing yesterday, I felt quite close to murder too, as I went to see the woman who almost made me love her when I saw her a moment in December, 1948. Murder is a kind of making love, a kind of possessing. (Is it not, too, a way of gaining complete and passionate attention, for a moment, from the object of one’s attentions?) To arrest her suddenly, my hands upon her throat (which I should really like to kiss) as if I took a photograph, to make her in an instant cool and rigid as a statue.”

    Kathleen Senn became the unsuspecting muse who inspired The Price of Salt, a book remarkable for its happy ending, something not previously seen in lesbian literature in the 1950s.

    In spite of the fact that Highsmith never had any contact with Senn, Wilson tracked down the woman’s surviving relatives. He brings out the other more poignant side of this brief encounter.

    What Highsmith never knew is that the glamorous, sophisticated Senn had a history of mental health problems. Sometime before the publication of The Price of Salt, Senn walked into her garage, closed the door, and switched on the engine of her car. She would never know the part she’d played in literary history.

     

    The women in her life

    Throughout her life, Highsmith would use the women around her, lovers or women admired from afar, as her muses.

    In spite of this, Highsmith was considered by some to be a misogynist.

    Andrew Wilson, though, shows the difficulties in such an easy reading of Highsmith’s character. The women in Pat’s life lived in the shadow of her mother. Highsmith was a shy, lonely character, and her behaviour at times could be misinterpreted.

    There’s no question she was a difficult human being to be around. But she had her admirers as well as her detractors.

     

    Highsmith’s politics

    Some people had a better understanding of her nature. She was a brutally honest person, which didn’t always serve her well, though some admired her for it. Her political opinions were hard to define. Some could be termed left-wing liberal. Whereas others veered to the right, and included anti-Semitic tendencies as well as a virulent hatred of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.

    Highsmith spent a great deal of her adulthood in Europe. In exile, she watched in horror as the U.S. went into various conflicts. Her visits back to America often served to confirm her opinion that the country had lost its way. She saw it as a modern-day Roman Empire, and her criticisms wove their way into her fiction.

    Highsmith wasn’t a popular writer in America during her lifetime. The irony is the way she’s been embraced there since her death.

    Wilson believes Highsmith was a writer ahead of her time. Her books, which some have seen as evil and immoral, don’t tread an easy path. She was more interested in psychopaths than do-gooders. These psychopaths were often the viewpoint characters, drawing the reader into their amoral worlds.

     

    Pacifist and animal lover

    In spite of this, she was a gentle person in real life and a pacifist. Generally, she preferred animals to people and had a life-long love of cats and snails. Wilson documents how Highsmith smuggled her pet snails into France under her breasts.

    Snails and cats are somehow fitting companions for this misanthropic woman. Her love of animals would take a comic dark turn in some of her short stories. There, animals got their revenge on humans, particularly in The Animal-Lover’s Book of Beastly Murder.

    For those wishing to track down her publications, especially the short story collections, there’s a list of her books at the beginning of the biography. Wilson does not ignore the significance of her short stories, summarising their plots and analysing them along with the novels.

    He’s also managed to get some quite revealing information from some of Highsmith’s lovers, as well as those who worked with her. It’s to his credit that he doesn’t set Highsmith within a heterosexist reading of human sexuality or gender. He clearly has enormous sympathy and respect for “Pat” even as he depicts her, warts and all.

    Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith is an exceptionally well-written and researched book. Wilson has done a fine job in pulling together the strands of this remarkable woman’s life.

     

    This review was originally written in 2004.