I just finished reading a novel that should have been good but ended up awful, largely because the author — a good poet and a pretty solid nonfiction writer — was new to fiction and made a lot of self-indulgent rookie mistakes. I don’t blame a rookie for being a rookie, but I definitely blame her editors for coddling a rookie whose success in other areas probably intimidated them.
I think the problems with the book bugged me more because I just spent several weeks revising and rewriting my own novel, and I’ve spent the past week or so helping a friend with his dissertation, so I am keenly aware of the perils of editing. It is an unfortunate reality that editing often involves tearing apart a project that’s been years in the making, examining the pieces, and handing them back to the writer to reassemble. That can be a painful process, and its success depends on a combination of trust and tough love: As an author, you have to trust your editor to critique your work with its ultimate success foremost in her mind, and as an editor, you have to care enough about your author to protect him from the consequences of publishing work before it’s ready, even if that means telling him things he may not enjoy hearing.
As the book I read this weekend illustrates all too well, even a big publishing house may not have the kind of gutsy, demanding editors a writer needs — which is where self-editing comes in. If you’re your own toughest critic, you can make your editors’ lives easier while compensating for any weaknesses they may have.
With that in mind, I’m starting a new weekly feature called “Hippie Writing Coach” — or, as my sophomores called it, “English class.”
Each Monday, from now until I get distracted by a shiny object, I’m going to post a short writing lesson. Some of the issues I address will be large-scale concerns, such as organizing a paper or developing a character; others will be little nitpicky issues, such as the difference between “your” and “you’re.” I’ll include samples (including some thoroughly embarrassing examples of my own work), advice on self-editing, and maybe an occasional writing prompt. I’ll entertain questions in the comments.
To get things off to a provocative start, tomorrow’s topic will be: sex scenes. Don’t act like you didn’t just bookmark me.
3 thoughts on “Coming soon: Free writing lessons”
I love this post.
I love to edit. I don’t have the education for it. I just love it. To this day I don’t know how to use a semi-colon. I wing apostrophes and the punctuation “within” or “without” rule. I was told once by a ‘real’ editor she was going to confiscate my quotes key. (Was that an insult?) I love it. There’s a talent in there somewhere. But I don’t quite have the education to pull eloquent rabbits out of my hat when needed – along with arranging an entire paragraph in order to use commas and avoid the semi-colon altogether. Let the instruction begin.
Thanks for the feedback! I’ll address some punctuation issues in the not-too-distant future.