Wednesday, July 11, 2012


There is a convention among published writers in relation to editorial advice.  If three or more editors decline a project for more or less the same reason, the probability of accuracy in their vision is high.

Yet another convention relative to editors:  The individual who “bought” or took on your project, whether it is a book or journal project, has as much if not more at stake in the matter as you. 

True enough, a doctor looking at something related to you, then saying, “Hmmm.  What’s this?” allows you the option of moving on for a second opinion.  An editor who wants to publish your work has demonstrated being an ally.  Said editor is probably not taking out personal writing career frustrations on you.  Said editor is, in effect, now looking at an MRI scan of your literary body, then saying, “Hmmm.  What’s this?”  Then saying, “It might have to come out.”

You are well beyond the stage of “But it has to stay; it really happened that way.”  In fact, you are at the plateau of recognizing a particular symptom relative to editorial comment:  the prickling sensation in your nerve endings.  Thus when an editor who has signed you to a project says—well, let’s pick a hot-button observation here—“Your sentences tend to run long.” you wait for the prickle to subside, thinking murderous thoughts until it does, then say “Any in particular you’d like me to look at?”

You subscribe neither to papal nor editorial infallibility; you cite your own fallibility as a foundation for such heresy.  Nevertheless.  Editors are there to help you, just as you are when, scrubbed for surgery and wearing your surgical greens, you approach a manuscript.  Your own writing is miles away at the time.  You pick up the scalpel.  You rearrange a word order.  Of a sudden, the author’s intent is advancing toward the reader.  The author’s vital signs are beeping a merry J.S. Bach two- or three-part invention.  You lean in, looking.  What’s this?  Ah.  You scribble a note in the margin.  This might take an extra sentence or two.  If not that, this might work better elsewhere.

The thing you admire most about it, once you’ve finished, is the sense of two-part ironic and satisfaction invention.  What you’ve done feels good.  But.  But why? But why couldn’t you have done such a procedure on your own work?

Because the process doesn’t work that way, is why you couldn’t have accomplished for you what you admire having done for someone else.  This has nothing to do with altruism.  On a one-to-ten scale, you’re about a six or seven on altruism.  Okay, have to work on that a bit, but that point is not the issue.  You get plenty of good stuff into your own work, if you do say so yourself.  You are a cranky, tough, sometimes mean spirited critic.  Your literary curmudgeon numbers outrank your altruism numbers.  That said, if you’re able to please yourself much of the time before you hand it off, that’s a dramatic demonstration of show-don’t-tell, right?

You still appreciate the work more when an editor’s gone through it.  You want to see before the fact how strong it can be instead of having to look at it after it’s in print, then realize you could have done it better.

Conventional wisdom:  The more irritated you become with a supportive editor’s suggestions, the more you are using your own process, stretching it, pushing it beyond the zone where it trots with ease when it could be taking in huge lungsful of air and your narrative stride taking up a pace you’d long since though beyond your capacity.

The message is simple enough.  You do not merely exercise your process; you push it with vigor and abandon.  If you push hard enough, the process carries you into that heady sense of connectedness and discovery where you are taking in great gulps of idea and expelling great gasps of language you’ve neither thought of nor used before.

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