Like millions of Britons during lockdown, I’ve been doing all sorts to my house. This means that the person I have spent more time with than even my own family this past year is my handyman (“indispensable” is more accurate than “handy”). During one of his visits, it occurred to me that my job as editor is not so different from his: we are both fixers. We look at what’s broken and mend it; we find the holes and fill them; we create neatness from mess; we take something “meh” and make it “wow”. We are, in short, both in the business of making something better.
One difference is how some clients respond. My handyman’s clients are always happy to see him (they called him in, after all) and always pleased with results: the door is no longer hanging off its hinges, the flowerbeds are neat and tidy, the gutters are no longer leaking. Nobody ever says to him, “How dare you show up here and fix my busted toilet? I like the puddle on the floor!”
Sadly, on occasion, my interventions are not so welcome. The clients most prone to defensiveness are those who have been assigned to me by their publisher. They often think their property is perfect and are insulted when they see the number of edits needed. In my case, though, clients are free to reject fixes as they see fit. I’m never offended by this, of course. It’s the house they built, and if they want it to be shoddy and unsaleable, that’s their prerogative … I just ensure my name isn’t on it.
I really ought to be better at DIY. I rely too heavily on my handyman for home improvements when I’m sure there are some things I could do myself, if I could be bothered to read a few manuals or watch a few YouTube tutorials. The same is true of writers when it comes to DIY editing. Too many do very little manuscript revision, or cut corners, because self-editing requires an eye for detail, the right tools and stamina: all things that make the process less appealing than the initial act of creative writing.
And make no mistake: DIY editing is a laborious process. Ideally, it comprises the following stages:
Each of these steps needs at least one blog post, and I’ll get around to it! But if you cannot wait that long, I’ll be explaining the entire editing process from soup to nuts (focusing on DIY editing) in a workshop hosted by writing coach Beverley Ward in mid-May. Information will soon be posted on her website; I hope you’ll join us.
My old bathroom was an eyesore: the colour was cold, the suite was ugly, and whoever grouted the tiles clearly did so drunk or blindfolded, maybe both. I kept the old toilet, the sink faucet and the layout because you shouldn’t throw out the baby with the old bath. But after a thorough revision, the bathroom is more spacious, more functional, and more pleasing with its rich green paint, clean lines and shiny chrome fittings: a space that’s now pleasurable to be in.
The fact that this renovation required the skills of a professional doesn’t devalue the outcome: our DIY skills will only take us so far. I don’t need to spell out the editing analogy here, really, but let me be clear: even after all your self-editing, your manuscripts will always need a final professional touch. However, whomever you hire will not be overwhelmed by the scale of the job; rather, they’ll only have to tighten a few screws, sand a few rough edges and patch a few holes to make your manuscript something you’re proud to show off.
Speaking of which, I'll end here with the before and after shots! Happy editing, folks.
Lorna Partington Walsh, Wordsmith