Some observations on editing and other things…

Over the last two weeks, as many of you will know, I’ve been doing a spot of editing (as well as scanning stuff for the Mary Danby collection). Well, okay, it’s more than just a ‘spot’ , it’s actually a LOT of editing, a whole novel, in fact. And you know what? It’s been one of the most pleasurable experiences doing it. And here’s why….

As many of you also know, I ran a small record label until the very beginning of this year. I used to put 14 hour days, seven days a week, into running it, and by the last quarter of 2009 I was beginning to feel resentful of the time I was spending on the label, time which was taking away from my writing. That resentment was probably compounded by the fact that, after having spent both time and money on promotion and associated activities, sales were horrendous and I was watching the great promise that the label had slip irretrievably away. Making it even worse was that all the reviews, of both the label and the product, were all extremelyfavourable, bar one. I guess, to me, it made very little sense as to why it was failing (but, of course, there were other factors involved, like a recession, for example). So, I’ve moved on.

I still put 12+ hours into the writing/editing/publishing/reviewing/creative work I do these days, but the feeling is now distinctly different. It’s work I actually enjoy doing, and although there are still deadlines (some of which are quite tight, like the editing job), the sense of pressure is considerably less than anything I experienced when working on FracturedSpacesRecords. I actually look forward to getting up in the mornings now, rather than thinking “Oh hell! Another day of dread and drudgery ahead…. ” There were times when I just wanted it all to go away, or wished that somebody would come and take it all off my hands. That just doesn’t happen nowadays.

Anyway, back to the editing. I’ve done some editing before, short stories mostly, both my own and those of other writers, but I’d never tackled a novel. So when the client (Stephanie Tryda) asked me if I could work on her manuscript and get it all done within a two-week timeframe, I positively jumped at the chance: in effect, this was something else I could add to my skills-base. Plus, on an even more prosaic level, having a menu of projects from which to choose meant that I would never be lost for anything to do, or get bored, or be prey to distraction. And thus has it turned out.

I worked out a methodical approach. First, I read the whole book, somewhat cursorily, to get an idea of the story and the ‘meta’ aspects of the novel (flow, rhythm, cadence, style, etc.,), making notes as I went along. While I was doing that, I corrected any obvious spelling and grammatical mistakes that jumped out at me.

Then, once I’d done all that, a second run-through, this time entailing a very much closer reading. The dynamics of a novel are, necessarily, very different from that of a short story. A writer has more space to tell their tale, building up character and plot slowly rather than quickly and dramatically. The rhythms and cadences are different, too. Plus there’s style to take into account as well: how much to edit for flow and comprehensibility without compromising the way that particular author writes in. You also have to be extremely aware of the rhythms and how they affect the work in question: does it flow smoothly from beginning to end, or are there interruptions that break the flow at awkward moments? Are there parts of the narrative that can be safely removed because, in actual fact, they don’t actually add anything useful to the story, the passages amounting to nothing more than diversions, abeit sometimes very interesting ones?

Alongside that, there’s also a great deal of internet research involved. The manuscript I’m working on is an extremely complex one, stylistically and thematically. Without giving too much away, its central themes revolve around Gnosticism (which the Free Dictionary [www.thefreedictionary.com]¬†defines as “the doctrines of certain pre-Christian pagan, Jewish, and early Christian sects that valued the revealed knowledge of God and of the origin and end of the human race as a means to attain redemption for the spiritual element in humans and that distinguished the Demiurge from the unknowable Divine Being”) and Sophia (Wisdom). Necessarily, there are terms used that are unique to that belief system, which have to be researched, verified and corrected, if need be. And, of course, catching all those spelling and grammatical mistakes, if any, I missed the first time round. Finally, there’s also making sure that all my edits are consistent, so whoever looks at it after me has as little to do as possible to it before sending it off to the printers.

It sounds complex, doesn’t it? Bizarrely enough, it didn’t feel like that, primarily because this is the kind of thing I like getting my intellectual teeth into – it’s stretched me in ways that some other things haven’t. Plus I saw it as a challenge – and editing (and proofreading) is something I’ve been looking to get into for a while now. The publishing isn’t going to bring in shedloads of money (nor did I expect it to), but if I can hone my other skills even further, I could, in theory, earn a comfortable income from them as well as my artistic endeavours. Going back to the record label briefly, in some ways that was quite limiting for me, whereas what I am involved with now presents a wider spectrum of possibilities. Just for starters, there’s writing, book reviewing, editing, proofreading, publishing and the painting – a wide variety to choose from. The more strings to my bow, the broader my choices.

So, in all, the last fortnight has been a brilliant push for me, skillswise and intellectually, and extremely fulfilling. Plus I would even go so far as to say that it’s also been educational. Therefore, I can honestly say that, had I stuck with the label and attempted to ride the bad times out, I doubt whether the plethora of opportunities and chances I have now would have come my way. And as for the great friends I’ve made as a consequence – well, that’s another story, for another time… =D

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4 Responses to “Some observations on editing and other things…”

  1. My experience is very similar, Simon. I also had my own indie label, for about 10 years. I put a lot of work into it, and while I enjoyed it and was satisfied, something was missing. Like you, what I’m doing now is something that I absolutely love. The satisfaction I feel now, whether it’s putting together an issue of Shock Totem or finishing a story of my own, doesn’t even compare.

    So it’s good to see someone with a similar story. =)

    • It’s also good to hear that my own experiences are shared by others…. it just used to frustrate me that, despite the universal approval and acclaim the label garnered, people still couldn’t bothered to support what I was doing (apart from the artists, that is – they all weighed in with their own promotion and spreading the word)… I still have about roughly 5000 CDs unsold here, clogging up space in the garage, CDs I have no hope in hell of ever selling… c’est la vie, I guess.. and you live and learn…

  2. Well, it’s much easier to say you support something than actually doing it. I see it with Shock Totem. Certain people want to tell us how much they love what we do, yet they clearly have never read an issue. Or they continue saying “This is at the top of my to-buy list!” Which is fine, of course, but when they’ve been saying it for two years it’s kind of obvious it’s all talk.

    • It’s something that any endeavour has to guard against – this is why my present project, Spectral Press, has such limited and consequently smaller ambitions…. There are certainly no guarantees in anything anyone does, but I am not the type to sit back and hide behind the “It might not work…”, because it could just as easily be “”It WILL work..”….

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