Saturday, April 3, 2010

Another Submission

I paged through 16 screens of potential article submissions on the SEED site and stumbled upon a "What Would I Do If I Could Do Anything" request. It doesn't pay much but it gave me a chance to think on this question.

Here is what I wrote...

I have always loved the English language. I love it's use, how some people can create an image in your mind just by assembling letters into words, into sentences and into paragraphs. I have always written, as far back as I can remember. I have a battered folder which holds a lifetime of ideas, undeveloped, and examples of early attempts at stories.

It's too easy to write a book these days. Walk into any bookstore and people with less developed thoughts than my cats have 350 page tomes with splashy covers sitting on the end caps of the aisles. Have your Warholian "15 Minutes of Fame"? There's probably a book deal in it for you.

I write. I write a lot. I write every day. I keep a journal. I have a blog. I maintain a web site where I post front page news for others to read. I probably have a book or two or three in me. But that's not what I would do if I could.

I would edit.

I would print out your carefully worded story, brew a steaming mug of tea, curl up on my settee with a cat in my lap, lick the tip of my red pencil and dive straight into your words. This subject doesn't match this verb! Red mark. You misspelled "misspelled". Red mark. Whoa. This dependent clause has been orphaned in this sentence. Red arrows. Red circles. Red "x's". Your manuscript would come back looking like it had a case of the chicken pox. You would probably curse my pencil, curse my tea, curse my very existence.

But I'm here to make you look good. I used to edit a small historical publication. Most of the submissions were in the form of memoirs, written by people with no formal writing experience. It was very important to preserve these memories but they needed a lot of help in teasing out the nugget of the memory. I told everyone who submitted material to expect to be edited; that no one was above the red pencil. I locked writing tools, as it were, with more than one author who felt his words were perfect enough to not need editing. A book, a short story, an article should be a journey from point A to point B. Yes, you can take a side trip to the zoo, but you should return to the trip.

My job, as an editor, is to let your voice shine. If your main story character never talks in complete sentences or ever says a full "-ing" ending to a word, it's my job to make sure you're consistent throughout your piece. A good editor can make you, the writer, sound like you actually do know this language you speak. I would catch your misspellings, your subject/verb gaffes, your dangling participles, your non-specific pronouns and make them right. We would argue, to be sure, that what you're saying and how you say it is functional within your piece, but, ultimately, we would make it the best it can be because you want to look your best on the printed or electronic page. I want you to look good because you represent something very near to me, language.

And it's this last point that hurts when I walk into a bookstore and see the latest "tell all". I page through, skimming the paragraphs and wonder if the editor was out to lunch or worse, out of sight. There seems to be this "I'm too famous to be edited" mindset which publishing companies have bought into. In 2 years, most of these books won't even be in the remainders bin. It's not only that their "author's" attraction was less than a nanosecond, it's also that the books aren't very good reads.

I did proofreading and Copy Editing for awhile. People wielding red pencils are low on the list of "keep around" when budgets get tight. Freelance proofreaders are everywhere and the competition is so intense that to get work, you have to price yourself low and hope you can take in by volume what you lack in salary. Eventually, I found a 40-hour a week job that paid me a salary; food over fantasy. I still write but I don't have the stress of wondering if I will be paid for the 8 hours I spent making this author sound good. I don't need to see my name above the title, below the title or anywhere on the front page. That's not why I would edit. I edit to keep the language flowing, alive, healthy. I would edit because language and communication are who I am.

If I could do anything, that's what I would do. I would surround myself in the word. I would make you sound good. I would buy 250 red pencils and lovingly suggest it's "too" and not "to" that you should use on page 15, paragraph 3, sentence 4.

We'll see. I found another request for how to make butter. I just started laughing. I need to do some research into where one gets the raw milk. Then, we'll see what I can do with that.

Beverage: Scottish Blend tea


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