An editor is your ally, not your enemy

Nobody writes per­fect prose the first time around. Oh there might be a killer sen­tence or two but the work will still need edit­ing. That’s what writing’s all about – get­ting that first draft down and then go­ing back to re­write and revise…again…and again…and again.

An ed­it­or is your ally, not your en­emy. They’ll catch the ty­pos, spelling mis­takes and awk­ward sen­tences and let you know when a pas­sage isn’t clear. They’ll point out re­peated words, where you’ve used pass­ive voice and the ex­traneous bits that need to be cut.

And they’ll nudge you in the right dir­ec­tion when it comes to fo­cus, the concept of “less is more” and open­ing your piece with some­thing that grabs the reader’s attention.

Rick's red ink
After I ed­ited this page and gave it back to Rick he said, “Did you have time to really look at this? There is­n’t much red ink!”

The first ed­it­or is you. It can be dif­fi­cult to see the flaws in your work but the more you do it the bet­ter you’ll get. A good way to learn is by read­ing sim­il­ar ma­ter­i­al with a crit­ic­al eye. What works? What doesn’t? What makes you want to keep read­ing? What makes you yawn?

For me the edit­ing pro­cess is largely in­tu­it­ive. I know when something’s not work­ing – not ne­ces­sar­ily why – just that it’s not right. Maybe the words don’t flow, the way I’m ex­plain­ing some­thing is bor­ing or the first para­graph needs to be moved to page three.

Be open to ex­press­ing your com­ments in a dif­fer­ent way. Read your work out loud and look at it both on your com­puter screen and in print. Change, re­move, re­arrange – it’s all part of the pro­cess. Be ruth­less, if you have a won­der­ful sen­tence, para­graph or chapter but it doesn’t be­long in this book, save it for an­oth­er story.

Eventually someone else needs to edit your writ­ing. I’m lucky. Rick, my part­ner, is also a writer and we go over each other’s work on a reg­u­lar basis. Sometimes when he re­turns a piece it seems like he’s marked it with miles of red ink. But I’m grate­ful for the feedback.

Although fam­ily and friends can be good ed­it­ors, they’re prob­ably not pro­fes­sion­al writers or ed­it­ors. Sooner or later your work needs the skills of someone who un­der­stands the writ­ing industry.

If you sign a book con­tract, most pub­lish­ers will as­sign an ed­it­or. If you’re self-pub­lish­ing or want to pol­ish your work be­fore sub­mit­ting it, you’ll need to hire someone yourself.

Remember, your ed­it­or wants the same thing you do: for your book to be the best it can. Chances are, their sug­ges­tions will get rid of any glitches and strengthen the plot and narrative.

If you don’t agree with one of their com­ments, feel free to dis­cuss the pros and cons of mak­ing a cer­tain change. Editing is a col­lab­or­at­ive pro­cess. And one that’s vi­tal if you want your work to shine.

Writing on the wild side

Escape. Whether it’s to a sandy beach in Cuba or a steep moun­tain peak in the Himalayas, every­one longs to get away from their day-to-day routine once in a while.

But as well as leav­ing some­thing be­hind, what about mov­ing towards

Me and Shannon after kayak­ing and hik­ing to the Grassy Knoll.

a goal you’ve held close to your heart for as long as you can re­mem­ber? Something you really want to do but some­how there’s nev­er enough time, in­spir­a­tion or even just plain know-how.

That’s ex­actly what happened the last week in May when a small group of people brought their ideas and par­tially com­pleted ma­nu­scripts to a Wilderness Writing Retreat at Seawatch Cabins in Nuchatlitz Provincial Park.

Surrounded by pristine wil­der­ness, we dis­cussed fo­cus, point of view and act­ive voice. We de­bated ways to carve time out of the day to write and the best way to find a pub­lish­er. And we all cre­ated timelines for fin­ish­ing our projects.

Nuchatlitz is a wil­der­ness area and wild­life is plen­ti­ful. The fawn with this doe es­caped be­fore I could take a photo. 

While do­ing so, we watched a sea ot­ter do­ing the back­stroke in the bay and a mar­tin scam­per­ing across the deck each morn­ing. We also saw five bear (from a safe dis­tance) and wolf sign on some of our walks.

I couldn’t have asked for more con­geni­al stu­dents. Everyone was totally com­mit­ted to tak­ing their ma­nu­script to the next stage…and did. I’m sure some found the red ink on their work daunt­ing but when I saw the re­vi­sions they made, I was astoun­ded at the improvement.

Shannon and Yvonne col­lab­or­ate on some revisions.

A bal­ance of private time and group in­struc­tion ad­dressed in­di­vidu­al pro­jects and skill levels,” notes Yvonne Maximchuk. “Paula gave me ex­cel­lent and per­tin­ent in­struc­tion in how to write to my best abil­it­ies and helped bring my mem­oir to a whole new level. I was thrilled!”

Yvonne leads the way on a kayak expedition.

As a new au­thor I had no idea how to edit my work,” adds Dodie Eyer who is work­ing on a children’s chapter book. “It was a real turn­ing point for me. And Shannon made us all feel very much at home. The food was de­li­cious, fresh, healthy and at­tract­ive. I loved learn­ing how to kayak!”

Yes, neither man nor wo­man lives by work alone. When not writ­ing, we feasted on sump­tu­ous homemande meals. Shannon Bailey, host for the re­treat, wowed us with her flair for put­ting to­geeth­er de­light­ful blends of col­our, taste and nu­tri­tious cuisine.

Dodie ad­mires wild flowers at the Grassy Knoll. 

In ad­di­tion to cook­ing and work­ing on a young adult nov­el, Shannon also doubled as wil­der­ness guide and in­struct­or. We kayaked sheltered la­goons, poin­ted our bows to­wards the white-cres­ted waves of the open Pacific Ocean and hiked gravel beaches and wood­land trails. At night, the si­lence was enorm­ous, the stars a cas­cade of light in the sky. 

Some ran­dom highlights:
• yoga on a sunny deck
• the “Aha!” look on participant’s faces
• Shannon’s stun­ning back garden
• lively dis­cus­sions on writ­ing and life in general
• sea­food bisque made with oysters picked off the beach
• the pro­fu­sion of wild flowers at Grassy Knoll
• chocol­ate brownies topped with rhu­barb-straw­berry sauce
• see­ing ma­nu­scripts move from good to very good 


As well as work­ing on writ­ing, friend­ships were formed, ideas shared and pos­sib­il­it­ies ex­plored. What a great es­cape! I can­’t wait to do it all over again later this year.

The back garden at Seawatch Cabins. All pho­tos by Dodie and Paula.