Time creates distance

Friday, December 15, 2017
Paddy O'Reilly interviewed by Amy Adeney

Paddy O'Reilly headshot
Paddy O'Reilly

"The longer you can leave a work before editing, the better," says tutor Paddy O'Reilly. We talked to Paddy about some tips and tricks of the editing process.

In your upcoming workshop, participants will learn the differences between using paper and electronic editing. Do you think this is simply a matter of preference, or are there real benefits to the two techniques?

A great deal of editing can take place on the screen as the writer reads closely, cleans up prose, catches mistakes, etc, and programs such as Scrivener can assist with structural editing. However, the work must be printed several times during the editing process. You will see the words, the structure, the shape of sentences differently when the manuscript is printed on paper. There is something about screens ­– perhaps the flicker or the scroll, perhaps the way we have learned to scan websites and social media – that encourages the gaze to slip over the content. Printed, fixed words reveal themselves more clearly.

You have written extensively in short story as well as novel form – does your editing process differ significantly depending on the length of the work? 

It seems easier to make major changes to a short story because, well, it’s short. But you have to be courageous and do the same with a novel, even though one major change will almost always necessitate other big changes. The work will be stronger for it.

How do you create distance from your own work before and during the editing process? Do you find it difficult to cast a critical eye on your writing?

Time creates distance. The longer you can leave a work before editing, the better. I think everyone has blind spots about their own work and learning to step back is one of the more difficult yet essential aspects of writing. But there are tricks to help writers see the work in a new way, a few of them very simple, like printing out the manuscript in a different font from the one you usually use.

In your upcoming workshop you will also discuss identifying your personal tics – can you elaborate on this a little? What shape has this taken in your personal editing process?

Oh, how we have our tics. And they change over time, so we have to be vigilant. Examples are overuse of certain words or sentence structures, a tendency to ramble or over-explain, a tightness or brevity that leaves the reader confused. In the workshop, we’ll go through some of the common tics that afflict writers and techniques for discovering your own.

Editing can seem like a never-ending task – what advice can you offer to writers who are unsure when their edit is finished?

I’m tempted to say it’s never finished. I’ve heard so many writers say they’d love to go back and re-edit their published books. If you find yourself putting a comma in and then taking it out the next day, it might be time to rest the manuscript. Rest it, then read it again after a break. At some point, you will hate every word you’ve written – that’s okay! It’s a natural part of the process and probably means you’re getting close to finishing.

About Paddy O'Reilly

Paddy O’Reilly is the author of three novels and two short story collections. Her work has won awards and been published in Australia, the UK and the USA.

About Amy Adeney

Amy Adeney is a Writers Victoria intern. She is a primary teacher and founder of Busy Bookworms, a bookclub for preschoolers.