Louise Couper
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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.