Authors who are "Differently Expertised"...

Authors who are "Differently Expertised"...

29 December 2011

Editing Stuff by Ashleen O'Gaea

It isn't uncommon for editors to be frustrated writers.  Nowadays there's no excuse for anyone being a frustrated writer, given that places like CreateSpace will make your book look real even if it's crap.  Maybe it hasn't occurred to him that he'd be a better editor if he sat down and wrote something of his own -- he may not even realize he's trying to change other authors' styles to his own.  Editing -- both catching the typos and cut-and-paste errors and grammatical goofs, and the "would this be more clear if it went this way?" stuff -- is really more difficult than the "very difficult" everybody says it is.  You have to be sensitive to English's flexibility, to the author's style/voice, to context, to era, to genre -- and not impose your own stylistic preferences on someone else's writing.

All writers start out reading, and many of us come to write when we hear ourselves say, "I could do better than this!" for the millionth or so time.  It's fine to feel that way, even about famously good writers -- but the thing to do about it is not rewrite their work, but write your own.  Appreciate other people's perspective and as an editor, do your best to make it come across strongly; if yours is different, write your own story.  Make your characters talk the way you think they should, but don't mess with other writers' dialog unless they have misspelled something like here/hear or the obvious like.

(A writing group member's critique of one of my stories was that one of my characters wasn't speaking grammatically.  Well, that's because she don't talk like you do, hon!  Another of her complaints was that I used phrases that she -- and she alone of the six-member group -- didn't understand.  She was wide-eyed when I suggested that she might need to broaden her perspective rather than I might need to narrow mine.)

If you sell enough work to a traditional publishing house, you'll eventually come across this sort of editor.  It will piss you off.  You will say some incredibly creatively rude things when you open the e-mail and start reading; whoever else is in your house at the time, even if your door is shut, will almost certainly cringe, and maybe even hide behind the couch.  Go ahead -- vent.  It's good for you.  Then go do something else for a while, and come back later to make sure there are no legitimate suggestions, like ending that one sentence with an actual period instead of the typo-comma.  Consider the editor's comments -- read the suggested changes out loud to yourself, just in case they turn out to be good ideas, or bad ones that put you on to a better way of saying something.  Above all, be polite when you reject the proposed edits because they are "inappropriate to the context, plot, and mood."

Write on.
Ashleen O'Gaea

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