Saturday, August 20, 2011

Writers as Friends, Friends as Writers

aka, "The Need For Non-Academic Editing in a Post-Academic/Pre-Publishing Time"


"How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Edit Bomb"

I can't even count on all my fingers and toes how often I've written something, stood up from the computer, did a little "Rocky" dance, and thought I had just crapped literary gold out onto the page only to find that my peers agreed with everything except the "literary gold" part. And I've yet to experience a workshop that wasn't more than half-right on every occasion.

It's taken me the better part of my last 6 years to respect the editing process. I never did it and was reminded constantly of its importance, but now things have changed. Having small classes seemed to foster a kind of unity and camaraderie, a trust, that (for me at least) allowed more honest criticism to come through. If I was the subject of any kind of snarky or severely biased feedback, I either didn't notice or didn't care.

I have two friends I met through this program who give it to me straight on everything of mine they read. Likewise, I do the same for them when they give me pages. All three of us understand that confidence-boosting comments are necessary, but only if they come alongside the spotlighting of issues in the work. Plot holes, actions that don't make sense, odd phrasings...these are all evident in every manuscript. And they will probably remain a problem for us well into whatever state of publishing career we find ourselves...which is why we need each other.

Yes, Virginia, egos exist in a writing program, but so do people who know when to put them aside in order to make someone else's text better. If you are writing (and you should be) and you're allowing people to read what you're writing (you should, maybe) and you're genuinely listening to their comments and their comments are helping you, then you should trust those people. They're not writing your manuscript, you are, and if they're the kind of people that won't sugar-coat things, they'll pick up on all the small nuances that you KNOW should be there, but may not be. They read the story with fresh eyes and a fresh mind. They don't have the story's plot branching off into 30 different possibilities because the only possible plot the story could have is the one you've just given to them.

Having readers you can trust is absolutely essential because they'll tell you when your writing sucks and they'll do it in a way that's not condescending or insulting; they're genuine in their intent to make your manuscript something worth reading. And they'll force you to go back and edit that "literary gold" flaked turd of a submission until it's closer to precious metal than wastebasket filler. 

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