The title of this article, of course, comes from The Beatles’ early LP (recorded over a nine-hour session in 1963), and I’ve chosen the title for this blog entry because it sounds so much more enticing than ‘editing’.
Still reading? Aye, 99% of the writer’s lot is editing. Writing the original draft? Child’s play. Revising the bleddy thing until it squeaks with quality? Sisyphus himself knows no such endurance.
Alright, editing is marginally easier than pushing a rock up a hill, but the views are worse.
The story so far: Our hero has written and published a technothriller with a small press. Small press has decided to withdraw it from publication. Through dumb luck, our hero snags an agent. About the same time, a publisher (who shall remain nameless) offers to take said technothriller, providing certain edits are made.
And here I wish to pause. As a group, readers tend to hold certain myths about writing and publishing. Charmingly, one of these is that bookchains promote books on the basis of their quality (the reality: on the basis of publisher cash). But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about the myth that the text of a book is solely the product of the writer whose name is often found, in gold-embossed holographic pop-up plutonium, beneath the title. Not so, dear reader. Not so.
You’re looking at the end product of a long, long process. The author, the agent, content editors, structural editors, book doctors, word nurses, and quite possibly Clippy from *Microsoft Word have all conspired, liked aligning planets, to work their witchy forces on the manuscript. To be sure, there is a scale of fiddling. Some writers can’t stand to be edited. Others require a great deal of help. I’ve heard, for example, that Baron Archer has difficulty completing his sentences.
My point is that editing is a natural component of the process. It comes in many forms. Anything that constrains the shape of an art ‘object’ has an editing effect. Your personal history edits your writing. Your culture edits it. Your sensibility censures it. Your conscience may demand that the good end happily and the bad unhappily. These – undetectable as background radiation – are significant forces before we come on to the explicit, interactive force of explicit editing (i.e. the weighty report that suggests you burn your manuscript and start again in twenty years, when you can write).
On the scale of ‘attitude to editing’, I’d put myself at the pole that reads ‘can’t stop fiddling’; and when it comes to calls of ‘please please me’ from editors, I’m usually happy to oblige. Why? Well, I see any draft of a book akin to the rough cut of a film. I’ve done a fair amount of film editing in my time, and I know you can’t fiddle enough with cutting, pacing, experimental juxtaposition, changes of tone using music, and so on. A book is not a unchanging object. It is constantly fluid. The published version of a book is only a snapshot of its flux. Its ebbs and whirls will continue in the mind of the writer long after the printing press has finished its run.
So, those are some thoughts on the whys of editing. Later this week I want to talk a little about the process itself. How does one go about it? Is one’s judgement during the first draft to be trusted over one’s judgement a year later? Is a novel an inherently less structured object than a movie or a short story?
Buggered if I know.
(Image at the top is George Martin. For me, the fifth Beatle. And the best editor in the game.)
* “It looks like you’re trying to write a novel. Would you like to see a list of local psychiatrists and anger management consultants?”