Saturday, March 28, 2009

Split Personality

As a writer, if I have one complaint about editors, it's that they don't give a piece a chance (apologies to John Lennon). They don't read far enough, or they make snap judgments based on only a few paragraphs. They don't follow through and find out (cough, cough, ahem) what a great writer I am.

As an editor, if I have one complaint about writers, it's that they fumble their openings. They feel they have to explain everything, or they try to be too sophisticated, too cute, too whatever of one thing or not enough of something else. In short, in trying so hard to get it right, they get it wrong.

I know, 'cause I get it wrong all the time.

The only way to keep my sanity and still perform my duties as both writer and editor is to understand that the two jobs are not the same, but they don't need to be at odds with one another. After all, isn't the goal to produce strong writing and therefore good stories?

It's a Jekyll and Hyde world, and I'm just a wanderer here.

8 comments:

Phy said...

I suggest the 'hat' gambit. When I'm wearing my 'author' hat, I hope the editor in me will see my work for the genius it is. When I'm wearing my 'editor' hat, I can't believe the drivel I'm looking at.

Robert Treskillard said...

I wonder if that's what drove Robert Louis Stevenson to write Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Hmmmm...

Keanan Brand said...

Phy - The editor was my enemy for a long time, until I finally made peace, and accepted the dichotomy. Took a while, though!

Robert - Makes ya wonder, don't it? (laugh)

Alexander Field said...

Yeah, the whole split personality thing is interesting. Since I am an editor professionally (for nonfiction books only) I feel like can see things from the POV of the publisher/editor in some cases, but I am also guilty of reading only the first five pages of many a manuscript or proposal. But y'know what? I have found that it's true that those first pages are indicative of a writer's style for much of the rest of the book! On the other hand, I'm positive that I've fumbled my share of openings as a writer as well...so juggling both personalities simultaneously...well now that's the trick isn't it? I'm just wandering along as well...

Phy said...

Interesting story about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As I've heard it, Stevenson had a dream of darkness and death and the brutality of man, and wrote feverishly for three weeks to capture the dread message. But then as he was praying, he realized that the dream was not meant to be an journal entry but an allegory for the brutishness of man, and in his anguish, he burnt his manuscript and stayed up another three weeks feverishly rewriting the story as a novel so he could write it out, have some peace of mind.

The reaction was swift - the people of the day loved it and embraced it as a moral cautionary tale. I understand it sparked a spiritual revival (and would that all our tales were as effective in spiritual matters!).

[quote]The story has been considered an criticism of Victorian double morality, but it can be read as a comment on Charles Darwin's book The Origin of Species - Dr. Jekyll turns in his experiment the evolution backwards and reveals the primitive background of a cultured human being. Henry James admired Stevenson's "genuine feeling for the perpetual moral question, a fresh sense of the difficulty of being good and the brutishness of being bad". ('Robert Louis Stevenson' by Henry James in Century Magazine 35, April 1888)[/quote]

Keanan Brand said...

Phy - THREE WEEKS? Wow. And a classic was born.

Three weeks. Aside from a short story or two, I generally don't write that fast for short fiction, let alone a full-length novel.

Yes, indeed, I hope something we write might have such a great impact -- and for the good -- even long after we're gone.

Thanks for the history; I never knew how J & H came about, but I'm a geeky fan of this kind of information.

Keanan Brand said...

Alex - I volunteer as a slush reader / proofreader for Fear and Trembling online magazine, and freelance as an editor for fiction manuscripts, so I am accustomed to reading the first few pages or paragraphs, and making decisions before reaching the end of the manuscripts.

If I can see that a writer hasn't done the hard work by learning and applying the rules of grammar and punctuation, or by honing his or her storytelling craft, I won't accept the commission, thereby saving myself a lot of work and the client a lot of money.

For the magazine, the task is a lot easier, but it can still be tedious, especially when I receive several sub-par submissions in a row.

When re-writes are requested, some writers take the comments and the second chance with humility and gratitude; a few have resubmitted items that looked as if nary an edit had been performed on them, probably because the writers felt their work was brilliant from the beginning, and how dare we editors suggest otherwise?

Jadesmith said...

You've given me the writing bug, Keanan, and helped me greatly with your editorial views. I know my own weaknesses pretty well, but I'm sure if I was in the editor's chair, I'd throw a few lightning bolts at sloppy punctuation, poor spelling and half-effort. The two jobs are not mutually exclusive, editor and writer. But I agree that sometimes we have to read more to see the bigger picture. I've given up on reading some novels that I later found were worth another chance. Sometimes I had to wade through a slow beginning to get to the action when reading(but as you know,as a writer, I'd rather put the action first, thus my downfalls!)