The job of the editor

Mario sends me this.

Thanks bud.

The article from the Guardian is entitled “The Lost Art of Editing”.

My response to it is multi.

1.  For different writers, different levels of editing.  For the writers I know personally, they either have an editor whom they trust at their publishing house (the best selling writer of upscale bodice rippers, who lives in Victoria), a series of friends whose OCD and general fannishness will sniff out discrepancies (a writer based in SF who writes fluid drenched contemporary fantasy)  or nothing but himself, as he has been self published since he stood at the corner of Yonge and College with signs around his neck reading, for example, “Mutant Stories for Complete Idiots”.  Yes, I speak of Jo Beverley, Seanan McGuire and Crad Kilodney (fuck me, but I’d LOVE to see a writing panel with those three on it, it would kick ass although it might make Crad look bad as he always was a very politically incorrect dude and I know from personal experience that Seanan is powerfully smart and her ripostes emerge letter perfect at lightning speed.  Jo is a Good Person (one of the Dunnettfolk) who’s invested heavily in learning about various historical periods and has made herself very approachable to her fans.)

Different writers need different levels of editing.  Good writers have been ignored, and feted, and ignored and persecuted and then feted after they are dead since always, and bad writers have been celebrated and feted and then consigned to the great ashcan in the sky, since we started pressing wooden letters into clay tablets.  “Damnit!  Is Inanna spelled with two ‘n’s or three?”  Some need editing for content, some for style, some for grammar, some for plagiarism, some for plot, some should be edited out of existence, and some SHOULDN’T BE EDITED AT ALL.  Small children shouldn’t be edited at all unless it’s for school. There are some occasions which call for no editing, like rap battles and poetry slamming and “I will now depart from my previously prepared remarks” and ‘the dozens’ because the writing is still ‘in the air’ and hasn’t been committed to paper. You can say that’s not writing and really another art form, but to me the only difference is that it hasn’t been written down; it’s still communication, still words.

Which audience are you writing for and why?  My blog posts are full of typos. When I catch them and they are funny, I let them stand.  When they are really bad, my readers force me to correct them.  I suppose I could publish everything I’ve printed on my blog so far (there are publishers that make it easy to do that and it would be fun and tragic and revealing to interpolate later interpretations of events) and make those necessary corrections.  But as I say in my ABOUT page, the blog is for me and my mother.  Other people have used it.  My father is appalled by my lack of modesty.  Nah, appalled isn’t the right word.  I think perplexed and troubled is kinder and more accurate.   My mother is entertained, when she isn’t troubled (by her graciously acknowledged inability to understand just what the hell it is I’m on about) and perplexed (by cultural references that she couldn’t catch even if she had the Urban Dictionary, and Wikipedia wired into a head’s up display on her glasses).

2.  For different audiences, different purposes in editing.  You don’t over edit some kinds of writing because the immediacy and urgency of it are lost in the process.  You edit the living shit out of user guides until somebody with a grade 8 education in the language you are writing in can understand what you’re doing.  Note to editors.  Number the fucking pages of your manuals, you jackassii.  Jeff and I had an interesting conversation on that line earlier this week.

3.  For different market categories, different levels of editing.  I think it’s more useful to divide all fiction writing into four categories.  Schlock, schlock with pretensions, literature and juvenilia.  (Non fiction categories: Manuals, Advertising, Propaganda, History, Science, Science with Pretensions, Transcripts of court documents, Diaries/Op-eds/commentary/blogs/tweets/reviews, How-tos, Lists and Self-help books).  Porn falls between fiction and non fiction, in my view.  (In the words of the Immortal Gord Downey:

 "How do I explain this, how do I put it into words,
It's one thing or another but it's neither this nor that")

Nearly everything I’ve ever written has been juvenilia and schlock with pretensions – even the homilies, especially the blog.  I spare only the songs and the poetry because of their emotional concision and broad applicability.  Helluva thing to say, but that’s how I feel.  How do I know? because I READ and I CARE.  Were I to actually work on another novel… which would be schlock with pretensions, since I simply don’t have a Work of Literature in me … and my mother was up for the job, I’d let her edit it because the woman is in her own quiet way a geeeeenius.

Literature is writing that irrespective of the era, gender or class of the person writing and the person reading speaks to and clearly describes some aspect of the human condition in a recognizable, non-reproducible and human voice.

That I have an extremely vivid and sophomoric writing style is no secret – but I am very much addressing my own era, class and gender when I write and I’m not thinking that’s a problem, just how it is.

Literature’s the only class of fiction writing where editing matters.  Everything else is temporary; to hold my writing to the standard of Marcus Aurelius, or the writing of Marcus Aurelius to the standard of 50 Cent’s tweets, is a classic category concept error.  Good writers will find good editors, always.  The downfall of language and writing is grossly overrated.  Writing will get better, always, because the best will always be getting better; fewer subjects will be off limits, and science will continue to inflect and bend writing into forms more beautiful, more recondite and more authentic.  Worry not folks.

Thus endeth my comments.

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Born 1958. Not dead yet.

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