Wednesday, 22 June 2016

It’s All About The Angle (or what writing taught me about editing...)

In the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, there is a moment when one of the leading characters, Hermione, gets to see herself from behind. Despite all the time travelling and world saving that’s happening at this point of the story, her one comment is “is that really what my hair looks like?”

That’s what being edited is like - you suddenly get a chance to see something you know intimately from a completely different angle. I’ve had my writing edited more than once - I think I’ve said before on this blog that being edited is the most devastating yet productive experience I’ve ever been through.

I’ve recently moved sideways from writing into editing. I have to admit that I’m learning on the job, but of one thing I’m certain - being a writer and having been edited is one of the most important training opportunities I could have had. Here’s what I always keep in mind:

1 - When I’d finished the first draft of Secret Scars, I really did think it was done, and as open as I might have sounded about being edited, I still thought I’d produced a genius final version. How wrong I was! Editing freelance means that I only get work from people who want to be edited, but I’ve still had to give warnings that there may be more feedback than they’d envisaged.

2 - As a writer, putting my manuscript into someone else’s hands was incredibly difficult. It had been a part of my single-minded life for so long that it was hard to open it up to someone else. So, as an editor, I aim to be as gentle as possible when I am given the privilege of reading someone’s work, and appreciate that writers are giving me a huge part of their lives.

3 - Having spent hours writing such a personal piece, it was devastating to get negative feedback on Secret Scars (a memoir). I was fortunate at the time to have a very gentle editor! I am now trying to keep that in mind with the writers I edit. Although it’s my job to bring attention to what needs doing, I try to find a way to say it without breaking someone.

4 - During the pain of having my errors and misunderstandings pointed out, something slowly became apparent to me that I've hung on to - editing makes writing better. I make sure I say this to the writers I’m working with - that having a second brain and pair of eyes can improve a manuscript beyond expectations.

5 - There is nothing that can replace an editor. We can self-edit over and over again, but editors can see things writers don’t. Some of those things are obvious and hit you between the eyes - once you know you’ll never not see them again. Others are more subtle, and some may even lead to disagreement. Whatever they are, it’s better to have them pointed out than miss them completely.

All writers need another perspective at times. Seeing something from behind, or above, or through the eyes of another person, can be all it takes. The truth is, Hermione could brush her hair all she liked, but she didn’t know how it looked until she saw it from a different angle. 

Abbie has been writing ever since she could hold a pencil. She wrote a memoir, Secret Scars, (Authentic, 2007), and later, Insight Into Self-Harm (CWR, 2014). She founded and directs Adullam Ministries, an information and resource website and forum about self-harm and related issues. She blogs at Pink and Blue Mummyland and tweet as @AbbieRobson and @AdullamSelfHarm. She lives in Rugby with husband John and two children.


  1. I have to agree. I'm an English teacher and a pedant, but I still didn't see many of the inconsistencies in my own manuscript until I hired an editor. She also saw that I was addicted to similes, something I'd always seen as a good thing, and that was a humbling moment!

  2. Thanks, Abbie - it's good to be reminded that editors are on our side, even if it doesn't always feel like it!

  3. I know it's essential but it does sound terrifying. I'm not in that position yet but aware that I'm going to have to develop a much thicker skin when the time comes! Thanks, Abbie.