The Inner Reader and the Alchemy of Editing

My Inner Reader and Editing have rather taken over my life in the last few months. This is for a range of reasons. The reasons were all pleasant – or , at least, interesting. But her arrival was a surprise. And, as it turns out, a game changer.

Enter the Inner Reader

inner reader, mystery womanI should explain about my Inner Reader. She’s bit of mystery woman. I’d almost forgotten about her, to be honest.

When an agent took on my first book, I had a day job in the City of London. It fascinated me and I  learned a lot in this new-to-me world of finance. I was even solving problems, in a minor way. Don’t think of me as unhappy in any way.

But I wasn’t writing,

without inner reader

Well, I was writing – stuff my employer wanted: analyses, reports, draft letters for someone senior to sign. Letters that had the force of law, too. They came with set forms of words that I could dictate in my sleep.

And my Inner Reader knew that, except to a very few specialists, those words would mean absolutely nothing at all. Zip. Zilch. Nada. They conveyed as much information as chemical formulae would to a non chemist. It was code.

Now, there is a charm to writing in code. It’s the key to a secret society, after all.

I told my Inner Reader she wasn’t a member.

Ignoring the Inner Reader

inner ReaderFor a few months I went on happily writing this stuff and getting my life together – finding a place to live, catching up with friends. I refused to listen to the bit of me that was used to writing stuff  with delight because I knew that I was going to enjoy reading it later.

But then something happened. (I got rheumatic fever. Maybe I hadn’t been as happy as I thought.)

The need to write was back and it was urgent.

Inner Readers and the Urge to Write in the first Place …

My new agent gave me a Talking To and took me to a PEN meeting. In those days it was in Dilke Street, Chelsea. The place was full of writers whose works I knew. Over-awed, I heard Lettice Cooper and Diana Pullein-Thompson agree that they’d started to write because they ran out of books they wanted to read.

My half forgotten Inner Reader gave me a mighty kick in the solar plexus and said, “LISTEN.”

Disraeli's Inner ReaderLong before this, my mother had told me about Disraeli saying, “When I want to read a book, I write one.” We’d both thought it was peacock posturing, not meant to be taken seriously. But here were two eminently readable and distinctly non-posturing ladies, saying the same thing.

And I realised – the carefully crafted, edited and re-edited book that I had given my agent to sell was NOT WHAT I WANTED TO READ.

Toni Morrison satisfying her inner readerThese days, of course, I know exactly how important that is. Toni Morrison has said “I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.”  Nora Roberts told The Guardian in 2011 “I started to write the kind of stories that I wanted to read. It was very instinctive. You just wanted the heroines to be a bit feisty.”

…And Editing

My own Inner Reader has fought her way out of the shadows and come back punching her weight this year. Three times.

after the inner editor et alThe first was when I wrote The Prince’s Bride and made a complete horlicks of revising early drafts. Editors and fellow authors shook me awake on that one. Going through their comments, I slowly felt my way back to the book wanted to read.

Second, the woman in the mask started popping up in my dreams, talking about books that are so nearly finished it hurts.

“You know you want this character to do dance,” she said about one. “Cut to the chase NOW.”

Looks as if she’s right.

Inner reader does jigsawAnd third, finalising with Joanna Maitland next weekend’s editing workshop, I realised that there was a piece of the jigsaw I had been ignoring when we talked about making choices.

“You’ll have to handle that,” I told Joanna. “I always keep my characters’ options open far too long.”


mysterious inner editorThat  mysterious woman, my Inner Reader finally lost her temper at that.

“Stop letting the bloody characters bully you. What do you want to READ?”

She was right.

Trust your Inner Reader. Always.


7 thoughts on “The Inner Reader and the Alchemy of Editing

  1. Jan Jones (@janjonesauthor)

    Quite right too, mysterious masked woman. Whenever I hit a stumbling point in the current ms I have to go back and read the previous chapter AS A READER so I know what I’d expect to read next. (Writing it, of course, is a whole different thing)

    1. Sophie Post author

      Just don’t know how I’ve managed to sit on the harpy for all these years. But she’s well and truly got her megaphone out now.

  2. Elizabeth Bailey

    Yes, it’s all true. I tend to speak rather of my Inner Writer – another mysterious woman who pops up and takes over just when I think I know what I’m going to write and changes everything. Oh, we have arguments. Wasn’t supposed to happen, I say. Don’t care, it’s right, she says. Of course she’s always damn right. And perhaps she is in fact the Inner Reader in disguise because she knows what SHE wants to read.

    1. Sophie Post author

      Oh, my Inner Writer gets in the way when I’m reading other people’s books sometimes. She’s the one that started throwing things when I kept falling over the misuse of the word “smirk”. She’s a constant annoying presence. But when I’m writing myself, though she’s crisp on grammar, syntax and vocabulary she’s incredibly soft on wilful characters. Let’s them get away with anything!

      1. Elizabeth Bailey

        Really are the limit, those Inner Writers. Forever moaning about cliches and bad phrasing and clunky dialogue. I wouldn’t have to work nearly as hard if I didn’t have that creature on my shoulder.

  3. lesley2cats

    This is a Warning To Us All. I’ve been fiddle-faddling aroundwith the new book getting absolutely nowhere, yet it’s a subject – or a setting – close to my heart. Then, yet another set of – dare I say it, inappropriate – questions arrived from a blooger alongside an email alert from “Crime Classics”. I was trying to fit into the blogger’s story, not mine. I shall listen in future.

    1. Sophie Post author

      Good Heavens, Lesley, How easily we slip off our own road. Congratulations on recognising it!

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