8.21.2012

Seven Truths on the Art of Writing: Everyone Needs an Editor

I've noticed lately that it's fashionable (particularly among the "government-never-helped-me, I-made-this-without-any-American-assistance-at-all, so-why-can't-you?" set) to disparage the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child. I hear folks say it's a silly statement with increasing frequency, so maybe that just adds to the veracity of the claim.

I believe that many who stand firmly in the "personal responsibility/rugged individualism" camp should take great care in heeding that statement, as the world is now awash in writing that is, to be plain, flat out poorly written.

I enjoy about half of the independent stories that I've purchased in the last two years. That sample size is decent (more than fifty titles, if my Kindle history is accurate), but that ratio is still very disappointing. The two reasons I put most stories away without ever finishing them:

  • overt proselytizing (regardless of theology or ideology)
  • poorly edited work
I'm willing to forgive the occasional typo or homonym error. It's rare that any book, professionally edited or otherwise, is perfect in that sense. 

But many of the stories that I purchase, even after taking a look at them in the preview window, fall apart under the weight of simple errors that could be easily caught.

Successful prose is the product of revision and attention. If you are considering putting a book up there on Amazon, or querying an agent, I'd suggest that you run the piece by a trusted reader (someone who isn't related to you). That is, if you mean to be taken seriously as a writer whose work is worth trading for actual money. If that doesn't apply to you, post your unedited stuff online to your heart's content. The Internet's a mighty big place...

But if you want to sell some writing, I recommend that you find someone whose opinion you admire, and who is willing to do this (it's a big request to ask someone to offer a critique--don't be flippant in making such a request, or your feelings will likely be hurt) huge task and who is also willing to be honest. After this person hits you with the good stuff--after they dissect your poor characterization, chastise your plodding plotting and circle every mistake that you made with punctuation--then you should buy him or her the largest container of beer that is available in his or her favorite brand. And mention this person in the acknowledgements section of the book. And help them move when the time comes.

Note: Don't call your local college and then work through the entire department directory asking every English or creative writing professor on campus to read your brilliant, 900-page work of urban erotica (unless you have the money to do this and you come with an offer in hand, and then you will likely only be politely rebuked). This is grossly inappropriate and a little insulting.

You can bounce ideas off of your reading group, if you have one. You can work with a professional editor (rates vary, as some charge by the word, while others charge by the page), but do some research before you head down that road. You can trade services with another writer (and I mean critiques, folks).

But my advice is to return to your writing time and again, and then get a second set of eyes on it. In the long run, your story will be better for it.



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