Editing as Art Form: Musings of a Fledgling Artist

It is finally February, so we here at the Porcupine’s Quill are officially knee deep in our Spring 2017 list. We’ve pretty much wrapped up the heavy editorial lifting, so to speak, and we’ve started to move on to the business of printing and promoting. And though the editorial process is never quite over—there are always new seasons to plan, new manuscripts to evaluate and acquire—this slight lull in editing duties has made me think about what it really means to edit a book.


Editing is Not a Step But a Cycle

Editing is more than just a step in the publishing process. I can’t tell you how many people still think of it as simply “fixing grammar and spelling and stuff,” something that can be done by “my friend Sandy, who likes to read” or “my pal Toby, who always got As in English.”

But editing is so much more than that. Editing is patiently going through hundreds of submissions to find even one manuscript that shows literary potential. It’s working with authors to refine the plot and flesh out the characters. It’s about questioning motivations and studying symbols and images. It’s about making sure every sentence is excellent, every word resonant with meaning. And it’s also about doing these things several times, through multiple revisions, to get the best result.

Most of all, editing is about making sure the author’s voice reigns supreme.


Ego’s Just Another Word for Write Your Own Gosh-Darned Book

A good editor must, in my opinion, have no ego. Or at least he or she should rein it in so that it does not interfere with the important business of letting the author’s words shine!

An editor’s role is to suggest, not to dictate—to identify, not to fix. It is tempting (sooooo tempting) to rewrite a sentence here, switch out a word there, to pepper little changes everywhere. But a good editor will resist. A good editor will ask questions, make suggestions, initiate discussion. A good editor will coax the author into deepening his or her understanding of the character, into elucidating his or her thought processes, into eliminating waste, shoring up gaps and filling in holes in interesting and exciting ways.

Because let’s be real—the author’s solution to a given manuscript problem will almost always be superior to an editor’s by dint of the fact that it will ring true to the audience. It will speak to the characters and the story in a way that an editor just can’t.


Light Bulb Moment: An Artist Never Stops Learning

Like any art form, editing takes study, practice and hard work. I definitely consider myself a fledging in this particular artistic endeavor—I’m still finding my own technique and working out the kinks in my artistic process. I’m learning the best ways to be tactful, to be compassionate, to be persuasive rather than forceful. It’s an ongoing process, as I’m sure my poor victims will tell you, and it’s a constantly evolving one.

But anything worth doing is worth doing well, and it’s no surprise that every time I see a book that I’ve had even the smallest hand in shaping, I’m awestruck not only by the power and promise of the book, but by the conviction and dedication to the story that draws authors—and their editors—to pour heart and soul into its development.


Thanks for letting me muse on the role of editors and the nature of authorship. I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that our true purpose is not simply to make books, but rather to nurture writers and their stories, and to share the results with those who love literature as much as we do.

Hope you enjoyed,

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2 Responses to Editing as Art Form: Musings of a Fledgling Artist

  1. Lorrie B says:

    Well said! I was just reflecting on my latest editing job (a novel in progress) and thinking that my decades of selective reading have certainly helped shape me as an editor, and that finding a good editor has to be a huge bonus for most authors…. because it’s so important to have those fresh eyes on a manuscript which has been toiled over lovingly and often agonizingly. I appreciate your comment about ego, as I am prone to making changes here and there to tighten and clarify; I let my clients know that these are just suggestions and that the final output is entirely in their hands. (P.S. You might want to add the missing word to your sentence above: “Most of all, editing [is] about making sure the author’s voice reigns supreme.” LOL

    • Steph says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Lorrie. Sometimes it’s a balancing act for sure–shoring up those places where clarification really is needed, but keeping comments to a minimum so as not to overwhelm or dishearten the writer.

      As for your postscript–everyone needs an editor–even (especially!) me!

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.