"Correctness...is not the be-all & end-all of editing." The Art Of Editing, 3

Helen Moffett, Efemia Chela and Bongani Kona and SSDA's intern, Catherine Shepherd are all involved in the SSDA/Worldreader Editing Mentorship. In the third edition of the series, they talk about what they've learnt editing a collection with stories from 9 different countries and that draws inspiration from even more.


Editing in the African context is fairly unique. The writers of our fair continent travel in their writing, creating complex stories that rarely draw on just one place, one generation, one lived experience or language. As an editor you have a responsibility to keep an eye out for the changes in tone and slang. There are 54 countries that make up Africa - so there's nothing homogenous about the writing you will be encountering. 

During the fellowship we noted it was important to place the story's own voice as well as its characters in the proper context. Hopefully the writer will have done the proper research, but if something sounds strange. Look it up and then draw it to the author's attention. 

Related to this is the issue of over-editing:

"It's a tricky balance to strike but the best editors are tightrope walkers." - Bongani Kona

"Books that have been stripped of their local flavour and language, make for a boring read. It can be difficult to parse particular words into "standard" English. So in quite a few cases they should just be left as they are - okada, trotro, lobola, counterback.

I think you should trust the reader to be invested enough in the story to gather meaning from the surrounding words. Or Google it." - Efemia Chela

Helen Moffett adds:

My pet peeve is editors who “correct” local idiom & vibrant dialogue. The Queen’s English is not required for most characters.

The editor in Africa must be sensitive to variety of Englishes reflecting/representing multilingual societies.

It's a similar thing with correctness; it is not the be-all & end-all of editing. Consistency is sometimes more important. What does have to be correct is the Internal logic of story. Even short stories can have plot holes or contradictions.

Cathy's experience of the mentorship is slightly different and she explains what that entails:

I'm dealing with the e-book for the young writers that entered Migrations. It's well on its way as I am feverishly editing some powerful stories written by young African writers still in high school, under the guidance of the talented writer and literary critic Karina Szczurek.

Editing is definitely a big responsibility but like the actual art of writing,  the more you do it the easier it flows. There are some hard and fast rules in the editing game but I got some good advice about things that don't follow those rules.

"Follow your gut," Karina Szczurek told me before I began to chop, suggest and rearrange someone else's baby.

Worldreader is sponsoring the first SSDA Editing Mentorship Programme. Next week in the final edition, we talk about tying up loose ends. 

'It's like listening to a piece of music for the first time.' The Art of Editing, 1

Seasoned academic and fiction editor, Helen Moffett is heading up the Migrations editorial team this year. She serves as a mentor to Efemia Chela and Bongani Kona and SSDA's intern, Catherine Shepherd. More information about the SSDA/Worldreader Editing Mentorship can be found here. In this series, we go in-depth into editing through a series of tips and discussions about the craft.


The Editor Gets Their Manuscript: Now what?

I know, I know, trees etc, but you must print out and read your manuscript (MS) in hard copy form as well as online. Keep a pen handy as you read. Scribble down thoughts and queries and make corrections as you go along. You don't have to be thorough at this point: you're going to work far more intensively and intensely online, but you'll find that you miss things online that you see on paper and vice versa.

But before you even print out, you're going to have to spend some time doing editing housekeeping.

  • Open up the doccie and change the font (and font size) to one you can read with ease, and can imagine working with for the next few weeks. It's your eyes, you get to decide.
  • Double line spacing isn't necessary if you pick the right font and size. I always change all my MS to one and a half line spacing..
  • Every new chapter/story/poem must start on a new page. Use the new page command -- do not repeatedly hit the enter key.
  • Some authors format their works (in Word) to death. If your MS has been heavily formatted, send it back to the author and ask them to remove all but the bare minimum.
  • Search for any double spaces in the MS and replace with single spacing. The typesetter and proofreader will thank you much later on down the line. 

OK, now you can hit "print". 

 The next bit is one of the nicest things about editing.


Find a coffee shop or curl up on your bed. Switch off your phone. Read the paper version until you're done, making notes, but not to the point where this overtakes the experience of reading.

You don't have to commit to anything yet. You're at the courtship stage of editing, getting to know the MS, its voice(s). Listen carefully. By all means identify problems and start mulling over possible solutions, but right now, you need to absorb the cadence and flow of the voices in the MS.


It's like listening to a piece of music for the first time.


Your ultimate task as an editor is to become an editing chameleon (more about this soon), but for now, the MS never be this fresh again, so read with your internal ears pricked.

We're talking about editing short stories here, so this process -- paying attention to the internal voice of the story and the author's voice (these are not necessarily the same things) -- needs to happen with each story. Each story will need to be edited differently.

Worldreader is sponsoring the first SSDA / Worldreader Editing Mentorship Programme which is headed up by Helen Moffett. The fellows, Efemia Chela, Bongani Kona and Catherine Shepherd will also be contributing to the upcoming Art of Editing Series.