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Avoid self-indulgence but take naps

Being edited forced author Camilla Gibb to grow up and get professional. Editor Martha Sharpe has to sink into the muck and feel for unseen shapes before she can comment on a manuscript. They share their experiences on writing and editing.  
Camilla Gibb, writer

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Here's the harshest thing an editor ever said to me: "It's not the reader's job to indulge you, Camilla." She was specifically referring to a chapter of a manuscript that I had enjoyed writing more than any other chapter.   

Yowza. Joy killer. And yet, it was probably also the wisest thing an editor ever said. 

I tended to get carried away. I tended to find myself amusing, get on a roll, tumble down the hill into a pit of my own miasma.

 Apparently I wasn't as funny as I thought I was. This piece of not-so-gentle editorial advice was actually part of a bigger philosophy—less is more, show don't tell. No matter how experienced you are as a writer, you need to repeat these mantras to yourself every writing day. I do it with students; I do it with myself." Read more from Camilla »

 
Martha Sharpe, editor

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The beginning of editing a book is exhausting. I confess to taking naps. I know how that sounds, but the naps are not slothfulness. At first even I thought they were, but eventually I realized they were a necessary stage. Sometimes a writer will ask me to give his or her manuscript a quick read, just wanting to know if I think it has potential, if it's on the right track. They don't know what they're asking. I can't just dip my toe in; I have to sink myself into a book's muck and feel for the unseen shapes until I know what's in there. This happens when my eyes are closed in the late morning or afternoon.
 
After the muck and the naps, I write a letter. Usually about five, single-spaced pages. Or twelve. I ask questions, I identify problems—slow patches, places that need to be drawn out more, inconsistencies in characters' behaviour—and I make suggestions. Sometimes I get so convinced that I've found the solution to a problem, it's exhilarating. I'm helping! This is exactly what this book needs! And then I get the next draft back and the writer has come up with a better solution. That is even more exhilarating." Read more from Martha »



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