Thursday, August 27, 2015

If you are a writer you can also edit

When I was a kid back in the dark ages before twitter and facebook I joined a message board for writers and entered a brutal and honest world. I learned a lot from those writers but man oh man were they hard on me. It was so difficult to take their raw, uncensored views. I fought them so hard but eventually I learned how to handle their criticism I grew older, wiser, and became a better writer because of it. I learned so much from those older, wiser writers. They helped me understand English better. They pushed me to learn (in my own spare time!!) grammar, sentence structure, and plot structure. Through them I became a better student. I became smarter. And I got balls of steel.

Now, as a 31 year old, I find myself getting increasingly irritated with the "writers of today" who seem like an entirely different breed. The writers back in MY day (and I know that makes me sound old) told me "learn to edit yourself!" and I took that advice and ran with it. But I'm noticing a trend of people pushing professional editing services these days and it just makes me want to start smacking heads together. The writers I'm speaking to honestly think that they can't edit. They think it's a completely different skill that's beyond them or above them. It's not. It's really, really not. And I say that as someone learning it at the moment in university. Can you teach yourself highschool level grammar? because that's what it's about. But what bugs me about the classes I'm taking is how so much focus is put on grammar and spelling.

Grammar and spelling are important. But a good editor in my opinion would not be focused on just that. I want an editor to look at the structure of my story and tell me if it works. Do my characters work? what about the setting? and the sentences? Grammar rules can be broken for artistic effect. I mean, hell, I just tried to read "The Farm" and had to put it down in anger because the author had written it in first person but was "telling" instead of showing. It was quite literary his Mum sitting at a table just...talking. That was it. That was the whole book. I put it down and remarked to my husband "HOW IN THE HELL DID THIS GET PUBLISHED!?!"

If I was that man's editor I would have told him "Start again" the premise was great but his construction was so poor it read like it had been written by a Highschool student who was failing English and had no idea what past and present tense was. But obviously no one told him this. People have patted him on the back and told him his book is great and all of the positive reviews have left me bewildered. In my editing classes I was told not to change an author's their words were holy, or something. Oh no, just correct the structural stuff. Um, fuck that. This is what I mean when I say that a good editor has to be a good writer. A writer with balls would not be mad if an editor told them to start again because they would go "Oh, okay. Thank you for the honest critique!" because they now have a chance to go back to the beginning and correct their errors and make their story BETTER!

If you can teach yourself to write you can teach yourself to edit and do not ever dismiss the opinions of other writers as being less than the opinion of a "trained" professional editor. You do not want someone who is going to tell you that you are great when you are not. You want someone who is going to scratch out entire segments in red pen and tell you to start again. And you need to be able to take that cricitism with dignity and maturity and not react like you have been unfairly wronged.

Learning how to edit yourself will make you a better writer and will improve your understanding of English. It is a very important skill to develop. Get an editor if you want but it won't help you get published and frankly it's a lazy route you're paying someone else to do work that you yourself should be doing. Join a writer's group. Read, listen, learn. Get other writers to read your work. Read books on grammar. And then edit yourself. And then let go of your story's hand and let them wander out into traffic.