This resonated strongly with me. Much of what I do as a developmental editor focusses on helping writers understand how to deepen their writing: how to dig in to their most recent draft to build on the strengths and address the weaknesses; how to amplify the themes, strengthen the structure, develop the characterisations, hone the dialogue, finesse the argument, intensify the descriptions, stabilise the point of view, nail the opening, strip away what isn’t serving the story. This is the stuff of structural editing.
I relish this engagement with a manuscript, but most writers don’t. Like the woman with the turquoise jacket, for many writers, the idea of revision and self-editing is daunting and, to be frank, unappealing. I love that rush of creative inspiration; I don’t want to have to get all analytical about my work. Isn’t the ‘editing’ side of things boring and uncreative? Well, in short, no. Structural editing requires both left and right brain thinking as you become a creative problem solver.
Structural editing – as opposed to copyediting or line editing which focusses on punctuation, grammar, spelling, syntax – involves looking at the story as a whole and considering all the various elements of effective story telling. Structure, themes, character development, point of view, backstory, voice, pacing, dramatic tension, language usage, setting, central thesis – these are elements that most writers have given considerable thought to as they are writing. However, it is an understanding of how all these aspects are working together to deliver the writer’s intent – or not – that lies at the heart of the structural editing process.
Structural editing requires a shift from the perspective of the writer to the perspective of the critical reader, and while you will never be able to have the same distance from your own work that an outside reader has, consciously stepping into a different frame of reference can be an illuminating and empowering experience.
The notion that editing and revision must somehow numb the creative spirit arises from ignorance of the process, and an unrealistic romanticism about the nature of the craft. All published writers revise their work. All published writers undertake some level of structural editing to develop their work to a higher standard. It is, as Isobelle Carmody said, about deepening the work. From my perspective, this is an intensely creative process that harnesses the powers and possibilities of the analytical mind – a stimulating and stimulated synthesis of left and right brain.
Every writer I know who has taken on the structural editing process has been grateful for where it has taken the manuscript and where it has taken them as a writer. One friend of mine, who has a particularly potent, poetic voice, was quite intimidated by the idea of undertaking a structural edit of her manuscript, an idea introduced to her at a publisher’s mentorship program. But she bit the bullet. After all, she wanted the work published, and if this was the pathway she had to take, well, she was willing to overcome her fears. It was at times painful and challenging, but also enlightening, and ultimately rewarding; she has since found a publisher for her novel.
After that session on the Writing Process at the Byron Writers Festival, I sought out the woman in the turquoise jacket. I wanted her to know that she was not alone, and that I understood the space she was in. She was already on the road to becoming a better writer – she had asked the question; she had recognised that she had to find a way to push through her resistance to revising the manuscript, and she had come to terms with the fact that there was more work to do, even though she had thought she was ‘finished’.
She told me she’d been buoyed by Isobelle Carmody’s response because it had dispelled the last of her lingering reluctance. It was time to embrace the editing and revision process – she owed it to her work.