“That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and hull and a deck and sails. That’s what a ship needs. But what a ship is… what the Black Pearl really is… is freedom.” – Captain Jack Sparrow
For some reason, Jack’s words were going through my brain today, only I was hearing, “That’s what writing is, you know. It’s not just a computer and an idea, sentences and paragraphs. That’s what a story needs. But what writing is, what it really is… is freedom.”
Okay, I wasn’t thinking the last part. Writing isn’t freedom at all. It makes you a slave to your creativity. Writing is an activity that compels you to stay inside on perfect sunny days when everyone else is playing Frisbee with the dog or drooling over the hotties at the beach, shining up their firm smooth skin with sunscreen.
You struggle to get the words exactly right, you finish a scene, a chapter, and eventually the book. You feel really good about what you’ve produced. And then some asshole editor gets their hands on it and rips it to shreds. Or sometimes they don’t shred it enough and words you thought were pitch perfect strike a sour note when you read them in the finished book.
I’m in the unique position of being able to see this from both sides, having been both an editor and a writer for years.
Editors have a hard job. Pity them. They’re expected to spot and correct all your mistakes and do it so nicely, they leave you smiling, or at least don’t make you want to rip their heart out and eat it for lunch. They have to follow each publisher’s standard of style (many editors freelance for several publishers; it’s the only way to come close to making a living at it), not offend the writer (I’ve pissed off several), and somehow turn what is often a rough stone into a polished gem.
The hours are long and it’s required you focus every minute of that time in order to do your job properly. Try it sometime. Focus on something intensely for eight, ten, twelve or more hours a day, but I warn you to remove sharp objects first and warn family members to go elsewhere because at the end of that day, you may well want to commit murder.
Writers have a hard job, but don’t pity them. They do it because they love creating worlds and people and putting them through things that in real life would pretty much kill anyone normal. It’s fun and rewarding and very satisfying to make something up so well, people are entranced by it. That’s the goal anyway. Writers want to write something beautiful, something that will excite, arouse, bring tears to the reader’s eyes. Something that will last.
As a writer, I sometimes sacrifice proper grammar and punctuation to the god of “get it down now or forget it.” I’ll fix it later, and mostly this is true. AJ will tell you I write clean. There’s not much to correct in my manuscripts.
The editor in me just rolled his eyes and snorted, because he knows there is always something to fix, something that can be made better if you move this word over here and take that phrase out entirely.
Sometimes I hate that damn editor but without him, my story wouldn’t be as good. It wouldn’t be as polished or professional or readable. ALL writers have things in their manuscripts that need to be addressed: overused words and phrases, incorrect or awkward sentences, and hey, didn’t you just say this very same thing two pages ago? Didn’t you? I know you did! *red-lines it*
Not only are (good) editors often not appreciated, they are sometimes reviled and always underpaid. So the next time you get back the first edit of one of your precious babies, remember the editor is trying to do right by you while following the publisher’s style standard (and often, the twain doesn’t meet, and that’s sometimes why your manuscript isn’t edited as fully as it should be). Think kindly of them, even as you stomp away from the computer, incensed over a comment that editor left in the margin. They mean well. They want to help you. And take it from me, editors never, ever intentionally try to hurt the sensitive ego of the writer. They may dream about it (“You couldn’t write your way out of a paper bag if it was soaked in oil and set on fire.”) but they’d never say it.
Not to your face anyway.