I went and had a talk with the writing group ‘Reading Writers’ a few months ago, and have just finished judging their Spring Competition. A very good set of entries, but I can’t say who won yet. Results will be announced when I go and visit them on Wednesday. It was an interesting experience doing the judging. Reading critically is key to being a writer, and putting into words what works and what doesn’t in a piece is tough work. With a competition like this it is somewhat easier because the entries are short, so you can be both specific and brief. Also when you are reading critically for your own purposes, you can be as brutal as you like in the privacy of your own head. When you are writing for the writer, you need to be constructive and evenhanded, and that is more difficult.
So imagine what editors have to go through when they have a whole novel in front of them. Months of work and a fragile ego on the other end of the email. There was an article on the Guardian book blog last week in praise of the editor, and it attracted the usual mix of comments including those who claim that an editor is entirely unnecessary and likely just to get in the way of the genius of the writer. Yeah, right. We all need editors, and the ideal editor is not your partner or best mate, but a professional who is willing to spend many hours thinking hard about your work. It is a huge advantage that authors published traditionally will always have over a self-published author. (Though there are alternatives. If you want to self-publish there are professionals such as The Literary Consultancy who will provide an excellent service, but you have to pay for it.)
You don’t have to take the advice you are given, but you would be daft to ignore it. The idea that genius exists in a vacuum, and if you expose a work to criticism it will crumble into mediocrity, is a fantasy. It’s up there on my list called ‘Things said about writing I think are nonsense’ with ‘Poetry should just be written from the heart and never revised’, and ‘Don’t read other books if you want to preserve your own voice.’
Funnily enough that list is very similar to the one that’s entitled ‘Things said only by people who aren’t good writers’.
Yes, some of the responses to that blog annoyed me. Can you tell? And yes, I am working on the edits of my latest book at the moment. It’s hard work too, and so it should be. All praise the editor, and particularly mine. This book will be a great deal better because of her.