Be your own ruthless editor!


All writers have to be a bit schizophrenic I think. It is a craft which requires you become not one, but two people, a writer and an editor.

The writer is the ‘you’ who provides the words, he or she is free-thinking and open-minded, working on blank pages where anything is possible and ideas can roam wild. The editor comes along afterwards and has to be someone who doesn’t care for the feelings of the writer one jot, only for the quality of the work.

427px-Ernest_Hemingway_1950_cropThe editor has words to judge and judge them he must because, as Ernest Hemingway pithily put it: “The first draft of anything is s***.”

He didn’t mince his words did he? But then, this is a guy who fought bulls for a hobby – his inner editor and inner writer were no doubt tough enough to slug it out with each other without too many hurt feelings.

When you have your editing hat on your job is to take the words given to you by your flighty writer and hone them so that they are as good as they can be.

Here’s another quote for you about the writing and editing process. Samuel Johnson advised: “where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”

On the face of it that’s a curious piece of advice – why would you cut something you consider to be good? But it gets to the heart of the relationship between your inner writer and inner editor. The writer believes the passage to be good – the tough but fair editor realises that, in the context of the work as a whole, it is not.

It’s very important to establish some distance from what you have written when you edit it. You need to approach it as though it is by someone else – someone you are indifferent to.

479px-Zadie_Smith_NBCC_2011_ShankboneI think it was Zadie Smith who suggested that, as an editor, you should read your own work not only as a stranger would, but as an enemy would – eagerly looking for mistakes, seeking to put the work down and decry it as inadequate. That’s how hard you need to be on your writer self in order to produce work which is as good as it can be.

Sometimes it helps if you have left the piece of writing in a drawer for a while before you rewrite it – that way you can come to it fresh and so edit what is really there, rather than what you thought you wrote. You can look on a paragraph you once thought particularly fine and decide it is surplus to requirements.

AlexanderPopeAlexander Pope advised would be writers: “Keep your piece ten years.” (basically in the hope they would leave him alone for that long.) That might be a little excessive but a few months might not be a bad idea.

Another trick I feel helps me when I abandon my writer and become a ruthless editor is to make two versions of the piece I am editing. The first I put aside in a folder, untouched, the second I work on. That way, however ruthless my decisions turn out to be I can always go back to what I originally wrote if I choose too – I have done nothing irrevocable. It is surprising how seldom I go back to the original version.

My editor might be a tough task-master, but he is very often right!

Song of the Sea GodDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USAhere.


Lynn Dixon – author profile

Today I’m delighted to welcome author Lynn Dixon from Chicago to talk about her life and her writing – thanks for coming Lynn, lovely to have you here! 

Tell me a little bit about yourself as a person?

FotoFlexer_PhotoLynn3 (2)I was born in Detroit, Michigan as the youngest of four girls. My father was a truck driver and my mother later became a librarian and teacher after we were raised. Our family moved to Memphis Tennessee when I was about six which was my mother’s hometown. She later became a public librarian and I watched her every move. Then, she was my school librarian when I was in the 5th grade and would frequent the library and read the little blue biographies about famous persons’ lives. She and I attended one year of college together and that was amazing to be able to say, “Hi Ma,” in the hallway. She beat all of her girls by graduating college ahead of us.

All of the travel and movement helped shape me as a writer and an observer of life. Both of my parents were avid readers and great conversationalists, so words were always flowing whether during discourse or while reading. Daddy also took us on many road trips and exposed us to a variety of places. He would even take us over the Memphis Airport and let us watch the planes take off to help us become visionaries.

He relocated the entire family to Chicago to give us an even better lifestyle because there were more jobs in the North for African-Americans. This period is historically known as The Great Migration where millions people of color left the agricultural southern states for industrial jobs in the northern states. I completed high school and college in Chicago and later went on to take up my mother’s professions. I became a high school English teacher and a librarian. I have taught and worked children and youth from elementary years up through the college level.

Tell me about your journey as a writer – how you started and how you have developed?

I wrote feature stories for different newspapers and had my first by-line at age 24 after taking a Feature Story Writing course at Northwestern University. My first article was on child abuse which was just becoming an open topic in the mid-70’s. I also wrote poetry while in college.

I started my first book, A Golden Leaf in Time after a conversation about the challenges of balancing a profession and romance. I recently wrote my latest book, Warm Intrigues in a few months, after taking an early retirement from the school system. I was finally able to sit down and write and not worry about punching the clock or grading papers late into the evening hours.

The first book was written in different formats and on different computers, after work hours from a host of jobs. I kept changing, so the manuscript has gone through quite a few transformations. I just revised it again, but I still see flaws. I am self-published which means out of pocket costs; but I feel that my stories can be of helpful to some and refused to be stymied by the rejections from traditional publishers.

How would you describe your work – it‘s themes and the important things about it?

My first novel, deals with young professionals whose jobs are negatively impacted by being in relationships with the wrong mates. Both characters, who finally meet at the end of the first novel, A Golden Leaf in Time Revised, work hard to build a durable relationship in Warm Intrigues hoping this relationship will last and sustain them through life.

When I look at the talk shows and see all of the truly hurting people, I often think that if they read more and looked for answers in better places, they could possibly solve many of their life problems. I have also seen quite a few friends and co-workers whose jobs have been adversely affected because of unions with the wrong persons. At the end of the first book, I offer a list of self-help books which I call a bibliotheraphy.

Tell me about your current book– what is it about and what makes it a great read?

Warm Intrigues-thumbnailIn my latest book, Warm Intrigues, the two main characters reveal bits and pieces of their lives as they get to know each another. It also highlights the huge distances they are willing to travel to meet each other. Chicago is a very large city and called the Second City here in the States. They live north and south of the entire city itself; so their meetings take a lot of planning. Also, those who know the city will recognize some of the restaurants and hotspots where they meet.

Where can I buy a copy of your book?

All three of my books: A Golden Leaf in Time Revised; Warm Intrigues: A Sequel and Traveling Streams can be purchased in hardback, paperback and in e-book format through the publisher, Trafford Publishing. Amazon and Barnes and Noble have them; but Traveling Streams can only be purchased through Trafford, as an e-book.

I would stress the revised version of A Golden Leaf in Time Revised with the yellow cover.

My website:

Thank you Chris, for featuring me on your blog and in the UK.