In Praise of Editors

Stalking Hemlock

Hemlock

Never underestimate the value of a good editor.

Like many writers I often entertain the delusion that I could edit my own work to completion. I’m an OCD head case. I can’t read a cereal box without editing it and Facebook gives me hives. You don’t ever want to hand me a piece of writing and say, “Hey, look this over and tell me what you think?” I’ll get the same look in my eye as a cat does when it sees some hapless creature within its grasp.

Enter my editor. She has magical powers. I got the first part of my manuscript for Outpost back from her today. It looks like a medieval village after a Viking raid—but wow, is it good. I was astonished by all the things she saw. Once again, I found myself shaking off the spell and marveling at how familiarity gives the illusion of safety.

I can’t wait to delve into this. My book is about to get wings and shine.

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Writing and the Fairy Dust of Familiarity

Oona Creeping, by F.T. McKinstry

Oona Creeping

Consciousness dislikes chaos. Like cats pacing the borders of the yard, we tend to treat familiar things as safe and reliable. It gives us a sense of security. Given that familiarity makes a lot of arbitrary assumptions about reality, however, I personally think it’s an illusion, a convenient facade that makes it easier to deal with things. That’s natural enough, but when it comes to writing, one wants to be careful.

I recently finished a novel. It’s entitled Outpost, interestingly, a term that implies an unfamiliar place in some context or another. I finished it, revised it, edited, polished, washed and repeated until every word was as familiar as the lines on my hand. I’m weary of looking at the thing, truth be told. I put it in the capable hands of my editor.

Now things get interesting (note the mild sarcasm). Being familiar with one’s words is insidiously comforting. The process of writing, both mystical and miserable at the same time, has a way of making one’s work beautiful. Oh yes, the Universe is singing its brilliance because after all, suffering is noble. This is perilous, like being dusted with fairy glitter. You might think you’re looking at a nice green field with flowers and butterflies but those flowers have thorns, there’s a cat lurking in the shadows, the butterfly is headed for a spider’s web and the lambs are fleeing from an impending earthquake. Chaos is everywhere. This is what a good editor will see, because she isn’t strung out on fairy glamor or glossing over the goblins with a palette knife heaped with love and imagination.

Hemlock, by F.T. McKinstry

Hemlock

A useful exercise is to put the book aside for a time, let the fairy dust wear off and go back to it with a more objective perspective. This only works if you’re able to face reality without the high. If something nags you or doesn’t look right, don’t brush it off for fear of chaos by deciding it’s fine. It probably isn’t. It takes strength and courage to see through familiarity and let the work evolve.

These days, everyone is a writer. So I see a lot of things on the internet about How to Know If You’re A Real Writer. That’s a big topic fraught with nail biting. But I figure one of the criteria is knowing what it’s like to wake up from the fairy glamor with a nasty headache, a broken heart and some healthy skepticism.

In other words, chaos is a writer’s friend.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.