Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Makeover Writer

The makeover has become a popular phenomenon of long standing diversity.  Some makeover clients wish their wardrobe and personal appearance "made over," others wish to have their approach to the work market or business sense done to.

Yet others seek to have their living and/or office spaces renovated, and in an extreme but no less sincere way, some individuals wish to have their scholastic background made over, whereupon they set forth in pursuit of a graduate degree in some discipline or other.

You could--and now do--say some individuals engage your editorial services to undertake a makeover on a literary project, while yet others, curious about the literary life and the storytelling process attached to it, wish to learn a few of the basics in order to allow them to plunge into the curious, precarious, and earthshaking world of publication.

A good example of this latter group approached you eight or ten years ago, claiming to have accomplished a number of successful years as an attorney in which he'd billed amounts approaching three-quarters of a million dollars a year.  "The law has taught me to be conservative and patient,"  he said, "and so my question to you is how long will it take you to get me up to two-fifty thousand a year in writing?"

You, who have never made anything approaching two hundred fifty thousand a year from writing or anything else, did not know what to say.  But the matter remained with you, braided as it was into thoughts of make over and of some individuals, so eager and impatient to enter the world of publishing that they have no idea what the landscape of publishing is, much less the landscape of story, drama, memorable characters who may not be by any means moral paradigms or even, for that matter, very nice individuals.

If this sounds as though you are singling out individuals who are eager to be published as a singular example of impatient amateurs, you hasten to leaven this approach with your belief that all artistic arenas attract individuals who wish entry without proper learning or background, or understanding or, dare you add this to your list, skills.  

You write of your experiences as a writer, an editor, and a teacher, in the process turning your disdain toward self-publishing, where, on more occasions that you care to recall or detail, you've seen impatience tip the balance from good sense into disaster.  

You believe, and have begun to collect data on other approaches to artistry and professionalism such as sculpting, acting, photography, and the music professions.  And closer to home, you are aware of individuals who call themselves editors for the most flimsy of reasons, because they love words and because they read books. 

There is no hint of irony or exaggeration hidden within your belief that a contemporary automobile mechanic would need a thorough understanding of the internal combustion engine, with the possibility of a specialty in diesel engines and the fast-growing hybrid mechanics, which require understanding of electricity, the difference between an engine and a motor, and some grasp of how natural gas has become a fuel of substance.  Such a background is a given.  

The same standard does not, in your experience, apply to those you chose to think of as entry-level composers, some of whom bring energy and originality to their material, but who simultaneously see story in the same terms a theoretical applicant for a mechanic's job at a Porsche or Ferrari dealership might see the internal combustion engine as though it were powering a Model A or T Ford.

You understand this because it was you, for the longest time, powered by enthusiasm, energy, a vast reservoir of impatience, and the mistaken belief that the things by other authors you read and admired came forth almost directly as published, with no or little hint of revision or editorial concern.

You understand this only because of the enormous quantity of books and journals you've read, and the even greater quantity of crumpled wads of manuscript paper in the pre-computer typewriter days and now the considerable number of times you've hit the Select All key that outlines a paragraph, a page, perhaps even pages of a manuscript, and then hit the delete button, sending the material to the waste basket, where it may be saved, but where it should be allowed to reside.

You understand this because of the incredible number of manuscript submissions you read as an editor, the ones you argued to take on, and the work they required, even when they came from writers at the peak of their storytelling powers.

You understand this from all the bad printed books you've read, from your understanding of the other side of the bestseller metric, that limbo place in the massmarket publishing trade where returns on a given title are often at the fifty percent level, or higher.  

You understand this as a matter of taste, in which some of your least favorite books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies and where some of the titles you acquired in your tenure as an editor barely squeaked by the necessary costs to produce and distribute them.

Every time you sit to compose, there are these understandings, orbiting about you that you must hold at bay until you've finished composing for the day, and now you can try afresh to approach revision with a practiced eye.

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