Thursday, August 2, 2012

Don't Judge a Writer until You've Edited Their Manuscript


Until recent years, you took a popular statement at face value.  “Best not to judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

There are some straightforward implications about rendering judgments in that sentence.  Get some feel for the circumstances of behavior. Look for relevant details.

You began to look past the obvious when you came to the decision to apply this apothegm to characters as well as individuals about you, although you recall with a wince the time you got a cheap laugh when saying of a person you had no use for that he had terrible taste in shoes.

The cheapness of the laugh stayed with you to the point where you began to realize you needed to back off judgments on your characters.  Let your other characters make the judgments, pretty much the way you continue to make judgmental asides about the person with terrible taste in shoes.

Another extrapolation to make on the judgment and shoes trope is to apply it in a way that has only in recent times occurred to you.  “Best not to judge a writer until you’ve edited a manuscript of theirs.”  Although there is an increased likelihood that you will read if not actually edit manuscripts of those you feel close to, unless you are in a classroom situation, you can always say no.  You can often rely on the quite honest excuse of being busy enough so that it would be some time before you can edit the manuscript.

This was a long time coming into a place where you could articulate it for yourself.  In recent months you’d returned an edited manuscript with the specific note that it began in the wrong place. 

This is one of your most common assessments.  In the case you have in mind for this essay, you’d said it more than once, suggesting that the introductory scene was little more than a contrived conversation to establish an opening squeeze rather than demonstrating it in a more dramatic way.

When you work for a publisher on a salaried basis, things are much more straightforward.  The writer doesn’t like your suggestions or refuses to act on them; the matter is pretty much over.  When you’re a consultant, the publisher or the author pays you, but they’re not bound to take your suggestions.

Let’s move ahead to a phone call you get from an agent, taking some time off because this is August and August is hot and no one spends much time in offices when it is August in New York, and although some business does get done in August, not enough gets done.

Hey, the agent says, then names the client.  Weren’t you working on that?  You confess that the client was either not crazy about your suggestion or went looking for a second opinion.

Starts in the wrong place, the agent tells you.

What can you do? You say more to yourself than the agent.

I know what to do, the agent says.  I already did it.  Stopped reading.

What are the odds you’ll hear from the writer again?  And what will you say?

At what point does “I told you so” become mean-spirited?

Don’t judge a writer until you have edited their manuscript has a lovely, satisfying sound to it, but it is only half the equation.  Don’t judge an editor until the editor has edited your manuscript.  And what about this? Don’t judge your work until you’ve revised it at least twice.

So what, then, is the difference between confidence and judgment?  Where does the one end and the other begin?  Is there an overlap?

Work with slow deliberation.

But not too slow.

And not too deliberate.



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