I have just finished the changes to the First Draft of my latest book that were suggested by my editor. I both enjoy and dislike rewrites. I enjoy them because I want to make the book as good as possible. I dislike them because they are always so immensely fiddly.
When an editor says, ‘I really love your book but I just wondered if in the third chapter there could be a little more of this and a little more of that,’ it always sounds so reasonable, so straightforward, so simple to accomplish. But actually it’s a bit like someone coming along after you’ve entirely redecorated your house and saying, ‘I love the new look but I wonder if all the radiators downstairs could be about ten centimetres to the left.’ And when you say, Are you crazy?’, they reply, ‘Oh come on Brian, it’s only ten centimetres.’
What they don’t realise is that it doesn’t matter whether it’s ten centimetres or ten metres, you’re still going to have to lift the carpet, take up the floorboards, drain down the central heating system and re-do the pipework.
So it is with a manuscript. Once it’s finished, even the tiniest changes can threaten to bring the whole thing tumbling down like a house of cards.
At the beginning of my career I use to bitterly resent these editorial suggestions. ‘What do they know about it?’ I would complain to my wife. ‘If they’re so smart, how come they’re not writing books themselves?’ But eventually I realised what a childish attitude this was. Both the author and the editor have the same aim in mind: to produce the best possible book. And each has his or her part to play. It’s a collaborative process.
All the same, I always breathe a huge sigh of relief when I’ve got to the end of the rewrites and emailed the manuscript to the publisher. Now I can forget about it for a while and do some gardening.
Just so long as I don’t suddenly get another new editor who comes along and says, ‘Tell me Brian, have you considered moving the radiators ten centimetres in the other direction?’ That has happened to me before, as a matter of fact. And I think I was very good about it. I didn’t swear, I didn’t even make a fuss. But I didn’t move the radiators, either.