What Does Captain Jack Sparrow Have to Do With Any of This?

“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.

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About Fenraven

Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is really hot most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
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12 Responses to What Does Captain Jack Sparrow Have to Do With Any of This?

  1. A.M.B. says:

    It sounds like being an editor is a tough, thankless job (much like my job, though I’m not an editor). Do you like doing it?

  2. AJ Rose says:

    I want the harsh edits and comments, because that means I have a chance to fix it before it goes live, where you can bet your ass the readers will pull no punches.

    But I’ve seen how tired you are at the end of an editing day, how fried your brain gets until you only want mindless movies and maybe some choclate. I almost wonder if the editing is harder than the writing because of the constraints you must adhere to. Then I remember bleeding on the page and think that there is no harder, there is only different.

    • I wish all writers looked at editing that way. Some don’t. At that place I used to edit, only a handful of manuscripts of the many I worked on were work I’d accept. The rest was garbage, and it was the editor’s job to turn it into something publishable. A few writers thanked me for pointing out where they needed improvement. Most didn’t say anything to me (but a few even bitched publicly about how harsh I was), and a couple actually refused the edit. Writers can do that. I had no idea. My pay was cut accordingly.

      I’m funny that way. I think, if you can’t write, you shouldn’t get published. But publishers have to make a living and so currently, there are plenty of non-writers seeing their names in print when they haven’t done the work to deserve it. That makes “real writers” feel like crap. Why bother to learn how to write a proper sentence if an editor will fix it for you?

      Don’t get me started.

  3. I hate editing, but I love editors. I suspect these two things are related. That said, I don’t get hating on the editor. You need to know if your story is unclear, or that line isn’t working. I guess it comes down to dehumanizing the editor to a certain extent. Like, if you’re unhappy with a comment, why wouldn’t you just ask for advice or clarification or explain what you’re trying to do? I had a moment in Gutter Punk that was deliberately confusing. I need input on both the fact that yes, it’s confusing, and also, does it work to have a confusing moment.

    • You, my darling, are a joy to edit. Those I freelance edit for are writers, and I love editing them. It’s why I ask for a sample. I don’t want to bang my head against the wall anymore in frustration.

      The truth is, every writer, no matter how good, needs editing for the simple reason that we’re too close to the work to see some things. There’s absolutely no shame in an editor pointing out an overused or left out word, or suggesting rephrasing. AJ finds lots of things in every manuscript I send him, and I’m grateful he does. I simply can’t see those errors yet.

      If I would set the manuscript aside for six months, I’d see it then. But how many writers have that luxury? We need to publish! Hence our reliance on editors. 🙂 I love them, too. I just have to find a way to enjoy that part of the process. I don’t. ;/

  4. Hugs! The process is grueling and necessary, and sometimes it must really suck to be the person that people love to hate. Just the thought makes me want to run away screaming. I love what you do though, and thankful that there are people like you out there doing it. My life would be much sadder without it, my bank account would probably be happier though. haha. 🙂

  5. therealtbaggins says:

    Interesting. I found the part about not pissing off the writer to be personally true. My last editor (a freelancer, obviously, and the most expensive I’ve ever hired due to her many years of trad-pub experience) sent me a 24 page report in the form of a questionnaire. Often she repeated the same critiques, in order to slavishly follow the format of her own document, meaning she repeated most points 3-6 times. That pissed me off. She also used a lot of loaded phrases. “This is trite.” “You’re just being silly here.” “You clearly didn’t think this through.” “I’m sorry, but this is absurd.” That pissed me off, too. Then she didn’t like my ending and wrote me an alternate ending, ascribing new behaviors and emotions to one of my characters. “Pissed off” is not strong enough for my reaction to that.

    Now, three months later, she is unhappy with me because she realized I hired a new editor for my latest book. I wonder … did she really think she’d get repeat business from me while working so hard to show me who was more clever?

    I don’t think I’m hard to work with. My first editor was perfectly blunt. Her method was simple, she would insert in the body of the ms her comments: “Too fast,” “Hard to believe,” “Over the top.” “Too many elipses.” I loved it, and it made me a much better writer in record time. I can handle the truth. Oh, yes, I’ve had to face it many times. But that last editor’s method rubbed me the wrong way.

    • I’m pretty sure all editors worry about offending writers, and in some few cases, they don’t care, i.e., the writer can’t write, shouldn’t write, and definitely shouldn’t be published. ;/ But that’s generally rare.

      Most writers just need a little help and there’s no point in being hurtful about it. But when you do a lot of editing, sometimes you forget to be tactful. Emotions are hard to read in short comment sentences. I try to throw in emoticons once in a while, to signal I’m not scolding or being mean, and a very good editor I once worked with told me to ‘suggest’ rather than bluntly lay it out there. She was right.

      But when I get in the zone, I sometimes forget. ;/

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