Saturday, July 18, 2015

Distractions?

There's no telling with any certainty when you started thinking of the changes in your career path as distractions.  Nor is there any telling when you'd begun compiling arguments pro and con relative to the effects of distraction in story telling.  Perhaps these were two conversations you were having with yourself when no one was looking.

The first "distraction" came from the fact of you not being able to write enough of the titles the individual who was soon to become your publisher/employer wanted.  

True enough, you were writing a novel a month for a long stretch, and you were producing material for your publisher, but he had visions for the project on which you were employed.  "You must,"  he said one day in his office, "have some friends who are writers."  And thus the editorial distraction was in place.  You were an editor.  Of a number of your friends.

Of the many problems this opened, a significant one was the growing awareness that your friends who were writers were not all that good.  You discovered this from having to edit their work.  Then came the second awareness.  Your employer/publisher had been--what word to use here--sold, taken, bamboozled--perhaps all of the above.  

His list of titles guaranteed to be mail order best sellers was the product of a survey performed by a man who, like your publisher, had his finger in many ventures, magazines, paperback original books, hardcover books.  Your publisher paid this man twenty-five thousand dollars for this "scientific," "extensive" survey of contemporary readers' tastes.  

You were particularly impressed how the author of the survey used the term "n-sampling" a number of times, seeming to imply he'd turned this survey into a far-reaching probe.  You thought otherwise, but for your pains were told you didn't have the background and insight this man had.

Your good fortune had it that some of your writer friends had projects you believed had potential in the bookstore market, what was then called trade publishing, as in book trade.  You were right and after a time, based on financials relating to the sales from the books from better writers and the more dismal financials related to the great study, with all its extensive n-samplings, you were seen as more than someone who could write quickly.  You had, it would seem, a "head" for the trade market.

Here you are then, some years invested in honing editing skills, already aware of a number of editors who managed to turn out the occasional book of their own.  Why not you?  This was during a time when you had yet to make the connection:  'At some point in the process, a writer must revise and edit a work before sending it out into the marketplace.  

You were growing more aware of the way the revision and editing were by far the most exciting parts of writing; you were actually supervising a staff of content and copy editors, in the process acquiring even more awareness of what went into a sentence or a paragraph, of which words you ought never use because, well, because they gave you nothing for the space they took up.

Another distraction you neglected to mention was the acrimonious divorce between your publisher and his wife, who got in the divorce settlement the publishing company and, thus, you> Now, you are suddenly all over the place, Chicago for an American Library Association exposition, New York for sales meetings, Boston for a regional American Bookseller's Association exposition, and of course every year for the Big Show, the American Bookseller's Association main exhibit, held at the Shoreham h=Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Suddenly, editing is no longer a distraction; it is a tool the writer must understand to get the best result from a project.  Suddenly, as well, being able to edit means you have some value to a graduate level writing program.  

After your first paycheck comes in from teaching, you have a brief sinking feeling because, the same way you did with editing, you liked teaching.  Jumping back in time to the point where you thought it prudent to put in for graduation and move beyond the university, you had only the sense of being prepared to write.  You were little good for anything else.

You were in effect teaching students who wished to become writers to overcome the causes you had for rejecting things as an editor.  You did not so much teach them how to write as how not to write.

The most simple of truths has come to you these past few days when, because of some unknown malady, neither cold nor flu, perhaps an over indulgence in Creole hot link sausage, perhaps from some random bug that happened to take a liking to you, you had ample time to scroll through thoughts.  Try this on for size:  The writer must be an editor and a teacher as well as the person who sets the words onto the page.  The teacher part of the writer is the part that always reminds the writer of what must come next and why.

You have not, apparently, been deflected or diverted or distracted; you have been engaged at your own speed, working toward what you'd wished to become some considerable time in the past.

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