Tag Archives: Writinglife

Are editors still needed?

imageEvery last soul reading this post could, if they chose, have 5,000 words of fiction up in some prominent e-bookstore by the end of this week. This is true too of feature journalism, epic poetry, creative non-fiction, film scripts, thinly veiled Raylan/Boyd Justified erotica, song lyrics, diary entries and stream of consciousness commandments for that new religion you’ve been meaning to think up.

Step one would be typing 5K words of, seriously, whatever. Steps two through finished would involve figuring out step-by-step instructions available everywhere, on how to set up, price and upload the relevant files.

If we were all to do this, some of those hypothetical stories–say the ones written by Neal Gaiman, Tana French, George Lucas, Elvis Costello, Patricia Briggs, Joss Whedon, Connie Willis and Wayne Gretzky*–would be commercially successful. They might not offset a week’s worth of other work at the Lucas level of income, but they’d get lots of uploads, reads, likes and user reviews.

A different subset, including some but not necessarily all of the works just mentioned, would make for entertaining reading. They ‘d be good stories, fun experiences, and worthy uses of reader time. There’d be some delightful drafts in the mix. Depending on each writer’s process, some would be quite polished. Others would be pleasing shambles of prose.

There might be a few runaway successes that were simply awful, and a few unnoticed, typo-ridden gems.

Then there’d be everything else: quiet stories that didn’t quite pull it off, novel beginnings that had promise, stories with okay structures but off-putting protagonists, and a whole lotta stuff that wasn’t all that great. A great bulk of words that would, whether deserving of attention or not, sink like sediment to the bottom of the great and growing e-commerce database.

What does any of this have to do with editing?

New writers can tend to see editors as a source of adversity. Editors are the ones who say yes or no to buying our work, after all. Yes means publication, money and–perhaps most importantly–a certain kind of validation. No… well, it’s hard not to take a rejection personally, especially if you haven’t yet heard Yes.

New writers wonder if editors will steal their ideas. They worry about whether they’ll ruin their stories. They wonder if they’re too cynical or overworked to recognize quality. All of these questions have been part of a larger discussion about how publishing is changing, in this age of throw it on the Internet yourself!

I don’t want to get sidetracked into everything editors do. Beth Hill has a quick and very useful summary here.

The question about editors on my virtual floor (this came from Blaise Selby, on Facebook**) is: do we still need them?

I say: do we still need chickens, I say? Pacific salmon?  Caribou?

Editing, the act of reading fiction and providing insight into how the author can improve it, is a key process in the storytelling ecosystem. It is also, incidentally, an entirely noble activity.

One could–and many do–argue that editing can be performed by anyone with a reasonable degree of literacy. Your english teacher, your mom,your critique group, the lady who supplies your Diet Coke habit, a hired freelancer, fans, beta readers, agents, college professors, tax accountants, deposed dictators, or your romantic partner. They all read, right? And the fact is writers do seek out these people, and others, to read our work before it goes to market. This is, in itself, an argument that editing is vital.

But if anyone can do it, why do we need editors?

Expertise: the above random list of people could also provide first aid if you had a heart attack on the street.

If someone from your critique group CPRs you until the ambulance shows up and as a result you don’t die this week, that’s awesome. Go them! It’s a delightful human interest story. Even so, I bet you’ll be pretty happy when you’re ensconced in a hospital having a face to face consult with an actual cardiologist.

Getting CPR at the scene may keep you alive for awhile. Honestly, though, “not dead on the streetcorner” isn’t a very high bar. You want your writing to sing, to dance the Charleston in the streets. You want it climbing Mount Everest and swimming the Channel! Smarter, cleverer, stronger, and ever more effective.

There’s nothing quite like working with a professional editor to not only pull up the quality of a given piece of writing but to teach you techniques and spark ideas that will inform the quality of the next story.

So what else? Editors have a financial stake in your writing: anthology and magazine editors curate selections of short fiction that reflect their taste, the themes they want to explore and the best prose they can find. Book editors seek to add authors and novelists to their publishers’ lists that will bring glory, awards and pots of money to the company coffers. If they do these things well–economy notwithstanding–they get to keep publishing their favorite writers, bringing things they consider beautiful and affecting and important to readers.

I’m not the biggest fan of the invisible hand, but there is an increased investment in this process that can’t be matched by volunteer readers. Editors’ reputations rise and fall on their professional choices. When your workshop group is just trying to get through the latest round of manuscripts without breaking into a flamewar, and your writing professor is moving on to the next classroom full of aspiring Rowlings, when the freelancer cuts you an invoice with a handwritten note saying “Good luck with this!” your editor is still there, chewing away on the problem of why this or that angle within your book doesn’t quite work.

Financial stakes the sequel: It is simply nice to work with people who send you cheques. This sounds facetious, but consider: you have profit motive too. And when the person paying you says “This is a problem,” you’re going to be less inclined to ignore them than when your writer BFF says it. We all get tired of revising our work. Sometimes we need to suck it up and do another pass.

An editor who buys your work is investing in you. They’re taking a risk on you, in a way that the purchaser of a 99 cent e-book simply isn’t. That is a heady and important thing, something every artist deserves to experience.

The gatekeeper thing: I hate the word gatekeeping. To me, the word puts everyone in mind of club bouncers or Saint Peter in an unreceptive mood, barring the gates to Heaven. And we’ve all heard from writers who see it in exactly that light, and resent it accordingly.

But editing is about finding treasure! It’s archaeology, Indiana-Jones style. A quest for the awesome. They’re unearthing nifty written artifacts, polishing them up, and bringing them out into the light to blow readers’ minds.

In a world without editors, readers are be left to do their own digging in the quest for good fiction. Word of mouth, these days, includes professional review, as it always did. It’s also everything from blog entries to user reviews from anonymous posters to that friend you never quite agree with to what your book club’s reading. There are lots of ways to get opinions, good and bad, on what you should read.

In many ways this is a good thing. But crowdsourcing has its drawbacks. The accumulated opinion of everyone who happened to post might not be an opinion that helps you. Consider Yelp’s restaurant ratings. Canny Yelpers tend to have to develop a personal system for divining which ratings are actually accurate. A five star restaurant with only three reviews isn’t really a five star restaurant, is it? It’s a place that three people happened to like. A restaurant in the heart of a big city tourist district might have hundreds of reviews and ratings. And many of those are going to come from jet-lagged, hungry travellers who were grateful to be able to sit down and eat something that wasn’t deep fried nuggets o’ Spam.

As S.M. Stirling pointed out in a comment on this thread, any reviewer or gang of pals with an ax to grind can skew things the other way, dragging down the approval ratings of perfectly good writers, books (or restaurants, hotels, and fix-it guys) for obscure reasons of their own.

Thriller writer Chris Pavone praises gatekeeping elegantly here, at Publisher’s Weekly.

High grade your time: I consider making stories to be the highest and best use of my working hours. I want my writing to be fantastic, and I don’t want to spend endless hours on typos hunts–a skill at which, you may have noticed, I entirely suck. Every time an editor notices that I’m fuzzy on the difference between north and south or that I’ve forgotten to distinguish between constitutional debate and criminal law in the third Stormwrack story, I look smarter.

Editors have been part of the storytelling ecosystem for a long time. Cut them out, and the system will react accordingly: invasive species will flood in to imperfectly fill the niche they’ve left. Writers and readers would both suffer.

The idea of not needing them is, to me, unthinkable.

_____

*It’s my blog, I can imagine any readership I like.

**This essay is one of a series inspired by all of your responses to a query I threw to the Internet, asking everyone to let me know what you’d like to hear about in the near. I am still welcoming your topic suggestions.

***Your Raylan/Boyd recs are always welcome.

Thank you for the question, Blaise!

Toronto, Day 175

My day counting app also informs me that it has been 696 days since Kelly and I left for Italy. Man, I want to go back! It has even been just shy of a year (321 days, to be precise) since our last real vacation, a family gathering in Reno.

It feels like a year since Christmas. It’s a bit cold today, and the forecast gives us a 1 in 3 chance of snow. But apparently Toronto is like Vancouver in that the closer you are to downtown and the water, the less likely it is to give forth with what K calls the space lice. Even so, Glenn Gould is setting his cap against the wind:

All Imported-371

A recent post by Snuffy about strategies for battling the blues (my phrase, not hers, and an oversimplification at that) heightened my awareness that there has been a lot of dull monastic virtue going on in the Dua household of late. We’re eating right and flossing and going to yoga. Early to bed, early to rise. With lots of work in between. I’ve gotten the copy-edits finished. I sent a story off yesterday. I’m about to embark on fifteen critiques for the current Novel I class.

This is the sort of lifestyle that leads to shit getting done but also sometimes, a general feelings of being unfabulous.

But tonight we’re going to partake, for good or ill, of Thor: The Dark World. Tomorrow there’s a Met in HD opera, Wednesday there’s the monthly ChiSeries reading, and next week we’re seeing Eddie Izzard.

Watery Wanderings

The tall ship festival made for a fun morning. It would have been worth it just to finally make it to the shores of Lake Ontario, after five weeks in the city without a glimpse of water. The harbour is very pretty, and I could see Billy Bishop Airport and Toronto or maybe Ward island.

I shot my first Toronto cormorant, paddling in the fresh water:

My first #toronto cormorant. In fresh water and everything!

The ships were fun to tour. I didn’t pick up anything I hadn’t learned on my day sail with S.A.L.T.S., but I did learn about an organization called Sisters Under Sail, and am contemplating whether my next research sail might be with them. In the meantime, I’ve bought their T-shirt.

These newfangled microwave ovens…

What, besides baking potatoes, are they good for? Does anyone have any good recipes involving real food?

Today I am headed to the Redpath Waterfront Festival to tour the decks of a number of tall ships. I am exceedingly fortunate that I am able to legitimately call this part of my workday, as most of the ships in the Fleet of Nations on the world of Stormwrack are, in fact, tall ships. So ahoy, Mateys!
All Imported-277

Giving the gift of me me meme…

write memeI am trying to increase the functionality of my web site’s “Shop Planetalyx” page. Upgrade here would mean any improvement from the site’s previous state of “not all that useful, thanks very much.” So I’m updating the links to the various versions of my books and e-books, and also seeing which of my various short stories are still available for free online.

There are three of my “Proxy War” stories, for example. The Sweet Spot is the most recent to appear and yet the earliest, in chronological terms, of the squid stories. In it, a teenaged girl named Ruthie Gerrickle and her brother Matt try to survive the Battle of Kauai. Five Good Things about Meghan Sheedy falls quite a bit later. This time the fight is the Siege of Seattle. It’s one of two published by Strange Horizons. The third, of course, is “The Town on Blighted Sea.” The girl who was Ruthie has long since become Ruthless, but the war is over. Her side did not win. But life, strangely enough, goes on.

You may have also noticed I have figured out how to generate Pinterest memes. This may or may not be a phase I’m going through.

Off my Lawn! Jaine Fenn versus “Write every day!”

I am just beginning to know Jaine Fenn because we’re both members of SF Novelists. She is a British SF writer who studied Linguistics and Astronomy and had a career in IT before swapping financial security for the chance to tell tales about how the future might be. Her Hidden Empire series is published by Gollancz. Downside Girls is hot off the presses as of two days ago, and is a set of interlinked stories set in her Hidden Empire universe. Here’s the cover:
Jaine Fenn Covers

Today, on Off My Lawn, Jaine talks about the advice, often give to aspiring writers, to write every day.

One piece of advice commonly found in writing ‘how to’ books is ‘Write Every Day’.

Okay then! Soon as I build my time machine I’ll get right onto that.

Apparently Stephen King writes every day. This grand master has lots of
useful advice:

So if a ‘Write Every Day’ regime is good enough for him then surely it should work for you and me. Well, I’m afraid it doesn’t work for me.

Firstly, there are not enough hours in the day. Most writers have families and/or day-jobs. We like to see our friends, to engage in hobbies and go on holiday. We generally require more than two hours sleep a night. For many of us, if we don’t cook/clean/shop/child-wrangle then we’ll end up starving/drowning in kipple/unwashed
underwear/feral children. Finding a significant amount of keyboard-time in our schedules isn’t always possible.
Ah, you may say, but you have to make time. Fine. I refer you to the second paragraph above. And if you’ve already got a time-machine, I’d like to borrow it please.

Often we end up snatching the odd hour or two, and if writing isn’t our main source of income, even that can be fraught with guilt. But yes, an hour is better than nothing. Of course it is. And even if you don’t make it to a keyboard, you can – and should – still be developing stories in your head.

Which brings me on to the second reason I don’t write every day, the one unrelated to excuses and a chaotic lifestyle. The one that comes down to how creativity works.

The act of creative writing has been likened to drawing water from a well. If you keep taking the words out – if you make yourself produce several thousand words every single day – you may well find that after a while all you’re bringing up is mud.

This isn’t true for everyone, but for those of us not blessed with Mr King’s prodigious talent, the well of creativity isn’t bottomless. It needs time to refill.

When up against a deadline, I can write three thousand words a day. But if I do that for too many days in a row then, deadline or not, those words are not going to end up in the finished story. They’re just noise. For some people, making that noise is a good thing, especially when they first start out. You might subscribe to that school
of thought, and write every day despite the sure knowledge that some days you’ll only dredge up mud. But that doesn’t work for everyone.

For me, it’s frustrating when what turns up on the page is wastage. I might learn some lessons from it, but it won’t earn me a living – nor should it, because no one wants to pay for mud. And I could have used that time to clean the bathroom.

Every few days, even on deadline death-marches, I’ll find myself vacuuming the stairs, or digging the garden, or just going for a walk, but in my case this isn’t just writing avoidance. I’m waiting for the well to refill. Ideas need time to ferment, plots to coalesce.

On a Venn diagram of ‘writers’ and ‘OCD sufferers’ you’ll find a big overlap. Writers are good at setting up, then knocking down, mechanisms allowing them to almost write every day. We reorganise our lives, then find creative reasons not to write, and often punish themselves for not doing so. When I was writing Queen of Nowhere I was in the interesting position of writing about an obsessive while behaving obsessively, and I found a few insights there, I can tell you.

Fortunately, it being my fifth book, I had my coping mechanisms in place. I did not write every day, and I did not punish myself for not doing so. I still made my deadline.

So, if you’re someone who has learnt enough of the craft to get the basics down and has a busy life, instead of “Write every day,” the advice I’d give is to write regularly. It might just be a few hours on Saturday mornings, during your lunch break on days when the job isn’t too crazy, or an hour or two while the kids are at school,
but schedule it in.

If you’re being paid to write to a deadline you’ll be able to justify that time, but even if no one is paying you to write your story put aside some time, regularly, to write. Just not every day.
______
Thank you, Jaine! What do you think, folks? When and how often do you write?

Here’s a little more about Downside Girls: The floating city of Khesh rests above the uninhabitable planet of Vellern. For the Topsiders life is about luxury and opulence, while for those of the Undertow day to day survival takes precedence. Khesh City is a democracy by assassination, where the Angels – deadly state-sponsored killers – remove those unworthy to hold office. When Vanna Agriet accidentally spills her drink over an Angel it could spell death, but instead it leads to a rather peculiar friendship.

Last official @ClarionWest #Writeathon Word Count

I admit I was hoping to break 60K by the end of today, but to do that I’d have to be self-abusive and willing to write what–even by my lax first-draft standards–would be unsalvagable drivel. Pages upon pages of “And then McReporterpants did the thingie with the watchamacallit. Theodolite? Look this up later.”

So – today, words that are better than the above:

July 27 2,308 for a grand total of 58,378 words. Here’s what they looked like before I typed them:

Extremely rough draft, with chamomile tea.

(Sponsor me here! Win Naming Rights to an Island on Stormwrack!)

I had a look at the outline and I’m not as far from the end of the plot as I would have guessed. Maybe another 15,000 words until the thing’s Frankensteined together? I’ve never been good at making these kind of guesstimates.

What I did today to celebrate the end of the Write-A-Thon was go to the Urban Tea Merchant and spend two and a half hours imbibing Royal Darjeerling tea, little sandwiches and luxurious baked goodies while scribbling the above words. It was a very enjoyable wrap-up to the whole Write-A-Thon ritual; I commend it to you all.

I plan to keep up the current pace, of course, until I finish the draft. And then go back and rewrite, and rewrite some more, and then some more.

Readin’, Research, Write-A-Thon Giveaway

I am going to Victoria tomorrow to do some research for the series of books and stories I’m currently writing–in point of fact, I’m going on a short day sail on a tall ship called the Pacific Grace, which is owned and sailed by S.A.L.T.S. It should be a neat experience. If I’m not clinging to a rope every minute, there will, of course, be pictures.

I am really excited about this, except in the moments when I wonder if it will involve barfing or hard labour.

But back to the current project, I have firmed up my decision to give away naming rights to one island nation on the world of Stormwrack to the person who contributes the most to Clarion West in my name this summer. I will also have a draw for naming rights to a landmark, animal species, sailing vessel or city on Stormwrack. It’s your choice. Anyone who wants to qualify for that one need only donate something, even if it’s the minimum.

To win, you need to 1) give money; 2) tell me so and 3) give me some contact info. The Clarion site’s supposed to let me know about contributions, but this didn’t work out so well last year–I’m doing something wrong when I log in, is all I can conclude, because I have immense troubles with the site, and I’m the only one. (It’s me, lovely wonderful Clarion folks, it’s not you. You’ve tried, Chaos knows you’ve tried…)

The reason I’m clattering for donations should be blindingly clear, but if it isn’t: Clarion is a great program. It does terrific work. It made a difference in my life. I wrote six stories in the weeks before I went to Seattle (see, I had a pre-season last time too!) and 220 pages of new fiction while I was there. It helped me improve at my chosen art, it got my nascent writing career on track and introduced me to some of my best friends in the world.

But wait, there’s more, and it’s not frickin’ steak knives!

You need to know what kind of a place Stormwrack is if you’re gonna name an island, right? So as I continue to Thon, there will be posts from all the interconnected works set in this world, and they will be about the island nations I’ve established so far. For example, in the first of a series of stories called The Gales, I have this, about Redcap Island:

To distract him, she asked: “What do you know of Redcap Island?”

“It’s a kingdom,” he said promptly. “Government is stable, king’s rule is absolute. The crown passes to the eldest son upon the death of the king or his sixtieth birthday, whichever comes first. Elder kings go into a kind of ceremonial exile, along with any other sons…”

“Yes?”

“There’s usually just one other son. They must use magic to affect the succession.”

Gale nodded. “Once there’s a healthy heir and a second son, the king’s consorts bear only daughters. The Blossoms Majestic—the princesses—run the government.”

From “Among the Silvering Herd,” out on Tor.com and available as an e-book too!