Monday, July 9, 2012

I Don't Read, I Edit

I edit everything I read. It's a horrible habit, one I understand I share with other editors, writers, librarians and English teachers. (I might be doubly cursed because I was an English teacher too.) I start making mental notes about character development, arc of action, verb tense. If it's non-fiction I look for citations and cringe if I see they're from Wikipedia and no where else.

Don’t get me started on punctuation.

One of the few books I don't want to edit is The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro; every word, scene and action seems to be as good as it can be. I read the book aloud to my AP English students in 1990, shortly after it was published in the US. I told them nothing about the author and asked them to formulate hypotheses about who the author might be; they were astounded to find out that the author was not a retired butler, but a born-in-Japan, lives in the UK author who as far as we knew, had never been a butler.

One of those students is now a screenwriter. Though she said not to dignify her work as “screenwriting”. “I prefer... hack,” she said in her email this morning.

We have been discussing editing. She says she’s the servant of many masters, over-edited to the point of paralysis. We couldn’t decide which was worst – too much or too little editing. How do we know when the editing is “just right”? I‘d like to say that we know it when we read it, and I do know that it is a collaborative process between the author and the editor.

Unfortunately it is far too easy to “publish”. Don't Publish That Book! includes a hilarious interview with Lou Morgan, who can't stop reading his first written-as-a-teen manuscript because it is just... so... awful. Morgan and the others chatting on Suw Charman-Anderson’s blog thought their writing was so great -- and it wasn't -- and that they were glad that self-publishing was very difficult back then.

Suw Charman-Anderson writes, "If there’s a common flaw in self-publishing, it’s that too many books are published too soon. Experienced voices across the publishing world continually advise self-publishers to get help with editing, and not just copy editing but story editing too. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to properly edit your own work. But the siren call of the Kindle store is often too seductive. The urge to finish your first draft, chuck it through a spellchecker and release it in to the wild is often far too strong for eager writers to resist.

But resist you must. Not resisting results in your name being married, permanently, to sub-standard work which doesn’t show off your talents to their best. Do you really want, in five or ten years time, to look back on your early work and cringe? More to the point, do you really want your first act of publishing to result in the irreversible blotting of your copybook with your potential fans?"


Next week: the induced comma and other typos...

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