Editing seems to get a bad reputation in the circle of writers near me, especially those just starting or those trying to get back to their feet. You know how the advice goes: Turn your inner editor off and get on writing!
I’m getting that advice a lot.
Which is good advice, really. I wouldn’t be writing anything at all otherwise, because my inner editor is very loud and terribly distracting.
That being said, let me also tell you this: Your editors aren’t out to get you. Not the real ones, and possibly not even the one in your head.
I have a confession to make. I am an editor. A real-life, honest-to-goodness editor who makes her living editing things. Most of the things I edit are dry — corporate reports, academic texts, health and safety journals. I rarely ever edit fiction; it’s not really my area of expertise. Even so, certain things transcend boundaries, like good grammar and punctuation and an eye for sentence construction.
Some writers think that the editor is out there to butcher their manuscript with red ink, pick apart everything and leave you with the unsalvageable pieces. Maybe some editors do this. Most of the editors I know would go through your manuscript, make certain edits, suggest corrections, and leave it up to you whether to accept or reject most of those corrections. (How much you have to listen to your editor depends — usually — on the publishing house. Always read the fine print when you’re submitting stuff.)
Here’s an observation: if the editor ends up having to correct way too much of your content, or if you’re so resistant to corrections, it’s unlikely you’ll be published there again, no matter how novel your ideas might be. It just takes too much effort, especially when there are better writers out there. In some ways, it feels like you’re disrespecting the editor and/or publisher, like their time is not valuable. It doesn’t matter whether they are part of those big publishing houses or a tiny fanzine run by a couple of fans. Reading and editing your submissions takes time, and the more errors you make, the more time the editor has to spend on it.
Often, when I read posts online and see that the writer has asked for constructive criticism, I hesitate before leaving any feedback, especially when my comments are mostly about grammar, punctuation, or sentence construction and flow. I’ve noticed that some writers would bristle if you point those things out, saying that they’re writing for fun, that they’re being creative, they’re just writing because they want to be able to tell their story. Sure, this also might be the breakthrough work that will make their name in popular fiction, but that will just be a pleasant side-effect due to someone spotting their sheer awesomeness and talent completely by chance. They don’t need nitpicky grammar nerds telling them they got a word wrong.
(Okay, so part of that is exaggerated, but writers are egotistical creatures, myself included. Of course someone’s going to notice how effortlessly good you are, and also at the same time how much work you’ve put into writing, right? Right.)
Criticism of the story itself seems to be easier to accept, but not the technical aspects like grammar and punctuation.
Is it not constructive to tell someone that their grammar needs a little polishing up or their punctuation is wrong? I’m not telling you that your story is bad, just that it could be better. If you’re practising writing, why not get into the good habits from the start? The rules are not arbitrary; without them language would be even harder to comprehend. I’m not telling you to stifle your creativity and ponder each sentence for minutes before typing it down. (Really. Don’t do that. I’ve been down that path and that way only lies pain and the destruction of your creative soul.) I’m just pointing out where you got it wrong this time, and where you might be able to improve the next time you write.
There are rules, yes, and you can break some of them, definitely. But learn them first, then break them all you want, with elegance, poise, and no confusion on your readers’ part.
Shut the editors off when you’re writing, but let them back in once you’re done. A few minutes of correcting and tweaking and considering some constructive criticism can make a world of difference in your writing.
Ahem. Now that’s off my chest, I shall now get off my soapbox and go back to writing. And on that note, I’m always open to constructive criticism, even if it’s just someone pointing out I missed an apostrophe somewhere!