Friday, June 04, 2010

The Party Bore


Still jet lagged from the US tour, I set off this morning on a 5-hour drive to Lyon (on the other side of France) for what they call a rencontre - literally, a meeting. In this case with my readers.

It followed three days of frenzied revision on the fifth of my Enzo books. My editor, who had been staying at my house in my absence, had left me the manuscript with all her notes. Talk about burning the midnight oil!! Anyway, it's nice to have an editor who leaves such clear and concise revision advice.

Mostly it was copy-editing stuff, forcing me to go back and polish my writing. It needed it.

The major change was a re-write of the dénouement. What was strange was that nothing changed - except for the motivation. A musical parallel might be that I kept the same melody but changed the time signature. Anyway, it was a brilliant piece of observation by my editor. Subliminally I had already set it all up. But somehow in the writing I had missed my own point.

And that's the beauty of a good editor. They don't try to impose their vision on your work, but rather force you to refocus on it yourself and do proper justice to your original idea.

However, with the book behind me, it was back on the road again. And what a fantastic crowd I had at the Lyon bookstore. The women at the store knew more about my books than I think I knew myself. One of them guided me through a two-hour interview (in French, of course, which was quite exhausting, since I hadn't spoken a word of it during my two months in the States). And the enthusiasm of everyone concerned served to remind me once again who we do this for.

It is easy sometimes to get lost in our own self-indulgence, as writers, forgetting that our job is essentially to entertain. In a writing course I used to give with my wife, we would liken the self-indulgent writer to the party bore. You know the type... he traps you in a corner and talks about himself till you would happily bite down on a cyanide capsule to put an end to it all.

None of us wants to be the party bore, and none of us wants to write books that don't entertain. Which brings me back to editors who make you focus. I asked the question, a few weeks ago, about whether or not we still needed publishers in the electronic age. The answer to that one remains open.

What is certain, though, is that behind every good writer is a great editor - and a readership who can't wait for your next book. Where would we be without them?

Boring some poor soul in the corner of the room at a party.

(Two more events in Lyon, then off to the Med on Sunday for a few days' rest, then an event at Frejus, and a long drive north to Le Havre. Hmmm... might be more fun to bore people at parties for a while...)


Donis Casey said...

I just had the exact same experience with the same editor. One thing she pointed out is that I used too many commas. Now, how did that happen? I thought I was pretty good with the grammar and punctuation but both seem to be slipping as I get older.
Then she made a brilliant suggestion for clarifying the plot. She does this every time, and every time I smack my forehead and say, "Now, why didn't I think of that?"

Vicki Delany said...

Your comments about a good editor, Peter, fall into our recent discussions about e-books and self-pub. A good editor, one of which I have, forces you to look at your work in a different way. Self-publishing - hey it's perfect the first time, right?

DJ Kirkby said...

I agree with you about the need for a good editor. They are worth the expense, even if you have to pay for one as an unpublished writer.

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