Argante Literary Services

About Working with an Editor


Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. 

~ John Steinbeck

I TELL CLIENTS THAT I WORK FROM A FINAL DRAFT. That means I want the completed ms. or work in progress.
It seems to me a simple enough statement. Yet constantly I am working on a document submitted as “the final draft” when I suddenly come across a missing section (‘to be added later’) or some of the text in notes form.
This immediately creates problems.
The first is practical – fitting in the new stuff means you lose a certain precision in any overview of the thing in its entirety. The second is financial – charging for extra sections is complex. Firstly, you have to identify them. I ask the client to resend the ms. with the missing pieces added in a different colour, but it's difficult worki. Secondly, how exactly do you charge for them?

Often they are edited in here and there, and I charge by the page, not by the paragraph.

I am seriously considering a penalty clause on the document if it is not the final draft. And it makes life difficult not only for me, but for the writer.

If you haven’t got the whole thing down, you can’t see how it flows in order or arrangement; where repetitions occur; where it needs expanding, and where paring down. The work of editing is superimposed unhelpfully on the prime task of the writer: to finish.

This is especially important for the beginner, or someone with a ‘mission' or 'message' to impart, or a family or community history. Such a book is usually their one and only.

The editing interrupts the process of creating a text for editing. Both writer and editor can lose the thread, the innate logic and orderliness of the work in progress. That immediately adds to the risk of not pulling off this thing that is most desired – to tell your story or to make a point.

Writing is a journey, and you are nearly at journey’s end when you’ve got a completed manuscript for self-editing or to hand over to a professional for close editing.

In rural Eire there’s a joke that when you stop and ask a countryman how to get to your preferred destination, he will often reply, “If I’d a been you, I wouldn’t have started from there.”

That’s what I think about writers who can’t seem to get to a final draft. Did they start from the right place?

Mainly the writers I deal with splurgers, consumed with a red-hot desire to get it down on paper until they can write The End. That’s a good emotional state to be in for creativity, but it doesn’t work so well for the critical process of rewriting. It's much easier when you know what the stages on your journey are from start (the first idea) to finish (the final draft.)

I usually recommend a writing plan. Without a skeleton, you run the risk of producing nothing more than a shapeless and amorphous blob. A synopsis is helpful – a chapter by chapter outline of what you’re going to write about, whether it’s your life story, a self-help guide to asthma, or a ‘how to’ book on furniture restoration. It’s a corset, not a straitjacket. You can change it around if something promises to work better than your original 12-15 chapters as set down for your convenience.

And 12 to 15 chapters is about right to begin with. You can have more – and writers often find they do produce more when they fully engage with their subject, and begin to add texture and layers to their first outline. You can have less – especially if you’re adding artwork, diagrams, charts, illustrations, etc.

12 to 15 chapters is a good basic plan. If you keep chapters to roughly 2000-4000 words (let’s call it an average of 3000 words for each) it gives you a finished ms. of between approximately 36,000-45,000 words. That's enough pages for a proper spine with a title, and will allow you to add extra pages. For example, the title page – a legal requirement; a foreword, preface or introduction; useful addresses; a bibliography, or even an order form for your last or next book …

Richard Webster [link to] is one of New Zealand’s most prolific and highest earning writers. He has produced a set of CDs on writing nonfiction that offers excellent guidance. link toAnd he says he starts a book by brainstorming around the subject. If he can’t come up with a minimum of 12 to 15 ideas about what he has to say on the topic, he doesn’t have a book.

One main idea or sub-theme for each planned chapter, in other words. If it’s good enough for Richard, it’s good enough for me.

Those ‘ideas’ are the basis of your plan – they allow you to know what you’re going to say about your subject,  whether that subject is you, someone else, a neihgbourhood, instructions, or concerns or expertise you want to share with your readers.

With a plan, your writing stays on track, and you will eventually be able to hand over to your editor the final draft that he or she craves. If you don’t care about making life easier for yourself, think about making it easier for them.

It’ll save you time, energy and money.