The Page a Day Writers Group

Every Writer–Even Jane Austen–Needs a Good Editor

Posted on: November 16, 2010

We love her exacting, exquisite romantic fiction. But according to research by Oxford University English professor Kathryn Sutherland, some of Jane Austen’s prose benefited from a little help from a friend. In deed that friend was editor William Gifford, whose talents may have improved the classics we’ve read and watched turned into film.

Jane Austen

After studying 1,100 handwritten pages of Austen’s unpublished work, Sutherland suggests they contradict the claim by Austen’s brother Henry that “everything came finished from her pen.”

The pages Sutherland reviewed contained “blots, crossings out, messiness.” In fact, the research confirms Austen as a writer who “broke most of the rules for writing good English,” Sutherland suggests.

This is good news for unpublished novelists like myself, who constantly question how perfect our prose must be before sending it to a would-be agent. I’ve always suspected that a talented editor may be the difference between a pedistrian novel and a blockbuster work, like Austen’s that lasts through the ages.

Austen was a writer experimenting with her craft, and according to Sutherland, she was “even better at writing dialogue and conversation than the edited style of her published novels suggest.”

If you’d like to view Austen’s handwritten manuscripts visit http://www.janeausten.ac.uk.

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3 Responses to "Every Writer–Even Jane Austen–Needs a Good Editor"

Thank you, Claire, for such an encouraging post! I adore Jane Austen’s books- especially Pride and Prejudice- and am thrilled to hear of her messy drafts. And to SEE the excerpt of her Persuasion draft- Wow! A sheer treat.

It all points to the process- the fundamental RE-writing nature of writing. When I have faith in the process, I enjoy the draft stage a lot more.

Write on!
Ondine

[…] “Every Writer — Even Jane Austen — Needs a Good Editor,” claireflaire, The Page a Day Writers Group: A shout out to editors! I hate blogging without one, love them as a writer, and have been one. This post also suggests the benefit of peer review, which I touched on in a recent blog post in writing about Tim Burton. […]

Even so, the piece should be finished as nearly as possible, to lessen the chances of an editor throwing out your work due to typographical errors. But it’s still a comforting thought. 🙂

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The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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