Monday, May 26, 2008

Stages Craft: How the Learning Process Works

There are any number of stages allied with the writing process, including the one with the writer seated at desk, feet propped, hands cradling head, a look of glazed disaffection from reality permeating the writer's face. There is the actual white-heat fury of first draft writing, the whiter heat of disgust that comes with the conviction that what is being written is awful and not fit even for Tom Clancy, followed by the reentry kid of writing that ralizes the first draft wasn;t all that terrible. There is also the revision aspect in which certain questions and standards are applied to the idea at hand.

This is about none of those it is about the phase associated with editing which is to say the phase that comes when the work has been lived with, despaired over, sent to the nether regions of the hard drive, retrieved, revised, touched up, and finally shown to someone who has experience as an editor.

The goal of the writer is to trap the writer's voice on the screen, the hard drive, the page. The goal of the editor is to discern the writer's voice and isolate from it anything that interferes with it, be it an inappropriate word, an anomalous idea, or a defensive paragraph. The editor sees of the writer what the writer is too preoccupied to see. If the work at hand is fiction, the editor is becoming each of the characters not as the editor sees them but as the writer sees them. If the work at hand is nonfiction, the editor makes sure the table of contents reflects a logical and interesting progression of material, then assists the writer in findig the voice and attitude to present the matter. Writers trust editors, they countenance or put up with experts in grammar and syntax.

It is possible for a writer to write something the writer does not understand or like. Ultimately, the writer will reach the point of ability where it is no longer necessary to write something that is not liked. Thus removed from the cocoon of the beginner, the writer will essentially enjoy what comes forth, a transformative process by which the writer makes untenable things enjoyable and thus effective.

It is possible for an editor to edit something the editor does not like and do so with a free conscience because the editor is trained to listen to the author's voice and remove any traces of indecision from it, point out enormous gaps in logic or dramatic protective tissue. It is even possible for an editor to be helpful enough to the writer that the finished product is something the editor will indeed like. In this case the writer will not be satisfied because the work seems to have taken on a newer and heavier coating of authenticity.

There are persons who consider themselves editors on the basis of loving words, knowing grammar, being able to spot predicate nominatives and pluperfect subjunctives. They can distinguish cases from tenses. They often have tin ears for a given writer's voice however, and are not to be trusted on that score. The best they can hope for is to maintain what they call respect for the rules. If pushed, they will equate The Rules to the rules of grammar.

There are persons who consider themselves writers. They may even have written any number of things, say for community newspapers or perhaps for on-line newsletters. They have surrounded themselves with as close-fitting a protective coating as a mammalian heart is surrounded by a pericardia. Their immediate concern is protecting themselves from editors.

Professional writers and professional editors are allies. Beginning writers and wannabe editors are the literary equivalent of Sunni and Shia.

1 comment:

Wild Iris said...

The last line left me with a chuckle. My poor track record with common grammatical and punctuation errors would leave me helpless as an editor. But a writer I am, and because of those weaknesses I am happy that there are editors in the world, like yourself.