Editing and the Art of Sheep Shearing:

three necessary things



 Gosh! you say, there’s so much wool here – how can I tell where the flesh begins and the wool ends?  And the novel you thought was terrific – well … not bad – is back from the editor with masses of comments and suggestions.  Mind overload - where to begin?  How much do I cut, shape and seamlessly mould into a good story?


A lesson in Anatomy: Study the bones of the thing, as you would the anatomy of a sheep.  Write out your plot.  Groan.  Yes, I know, yet again.  But this time, the purpose is different: to find out where the vital organs lie, so you don’t do them a mischief.


Experience: Best gained by doing, I’m afraid.  However, armed with your anatomy lesson, easier than going in blind.  Help can be gleaned from the many books on the subject.  Ditto the courses that daily pop into your ‘in’ box.  Unfortunately, nothing and no one can do the job for you.  For that you need to have …


Courage: Grab your sheep and coolly and calmly hold her for a moment or two.  Get acquainted.  Let her listen to the whirr of the machine, tell her you know your stuff, that she will look and feel much better without that heavy, woolly coat.

 Life would be so much easier if sheep didn’t need to be shorn and books came off the PC clean, crisp and clear.  I console myself that even (or especially) Jane Austen did major revisions, as a rare, surviving draft of Persuasion shows.  Compare Chapter 24, as published, with its original (re-printed in the Penguin edition).  A wonderful example of that editor’s chestnut: showing rather than telling.  It makes all that pain and misery worthwhile.


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Reviews – and how to deal with them

Part I

I once organised a creative writing weekend and asked the – alas with us no more – famous writer and journalist, Maeve Binchy if she would come and tell aspiring writers how to become a bestselling author.  She very generously agreed and she gave us a wonderful, entertaining workshop.

What Maeve told us about reviews was memorable: she said she threw bad reviews on the floor and stamped all over them.  Maeve was about six feet tall and had a shoe size to match. As she put it: if her writing was so simple that ‘anyone could do it’ (as they had said), well, then, ‘Why didn’t they?’


Some writers don’t read any reviews, good, bad or indifferent.  Or, they get someone else to read them and ask to be given only the ‘good’ ones.  Probably best if you can get to that place Kipling mentioned and treat these two ‘imposters’ – i.e. good and bad - just the same.


If you do decide to read any and all reviews, be mindful of a couple of things:

- When you put your head above the parapet, it is a guarantee that you will get a muddy face.    Mud washes off, so don’t let it discourage you.  As sure as night follows day, it will happen    again.


- Ask yourself: is the review a fair and accurate reflection of my novel?  Is there something I    can learn from it?  If you don’t think either is true, then the review is meaningless.


To be continuedr

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Louise Couper