Verilion's post today (here) reminded me of something that I have been meaning to blog about for a while. V asks when is critique useful and does editing have to be done by someone you know and respect.
I realised very quickly that to comment on her blog in full would mean taking up a whole page - I have lots to say....
I have attended quite a few writers groups and courses, most of which I found to be completely fucking useless. People attend these groups for varying different reasons and I often found myself wanting to strangle them (not all, but most) because they appeared to take huge delight in ripping someone else's work to pieces for no other reason than to make themselves feel better.
I have strong feelings that a critique should be of some benefit to the writer, a fresh pair of eyes that can say honestly what they liked/disliked, how it made them feel and whether they enjoyed it, or not, what worked and what didn't. Critique should make you look at your writing, does it flow, make sense, and in essence is it readable? We all like to think that we are going to produce the next bestseller but writing is a craft, a craft that carries its own self-apprenticeship. Criticising at this level is about the help and support of fellow writers.
Editing is a completely different bucket of worms. I learned the hard way and in retrospect my writing would have improved far earlier if I had known someone who I could trust (yes Verilion, I think trust is very important) to set me on the road to good writing habits. Many of my friends read my first attempts and of course were all very kind, but lovely as they are they were not the people I needed to impress.
An early trip to the book doctor can save all sorts of later embarrassments, it can help to keep a manuscript on its toes and avoid some of the plot pitfalls that snare a lot of writers. A fellow blogger recently said that they thought that editing should be done entirely by the author but I am afraid I have to disagree. I think that self-editing can, and must, be done as far as one is able and by that I mean as far as one can see, but we cannot see everything.
A few bloggers, err, have lately felt the impact of my drippy red pen and so far no one has taken out a contract on my life. I am probably as surprised as they are but as with all parts of my writing I have analysed this and come to some conclusions...
1. Editing should be mutually beneficial to both parties. We never stop learning.
2. It should be a positive experience even if the truth (as the editor sees it) is not always kind
3. Editing should not touch the core of the work, nor the style of the writing. It should enhance, support and drive the work on to better things.
4. A good editor offers suggestions, solutions and advice, whether you take them is entirely up to you.
5. An editor should remember the journey. No one starts at the top.
One of the phrases that went thorough my head when we were copy editing and proofing Coven of One was "oh fer Gods sake, why didn't I see that?" - but I couldn't, I was too close, too in love with my own words, and it took a fresh, experienced and supportive pair of eyes to give me a sharp prod with a pointy stick (she lives here).
There are many levels in the editorial process, be it checking for spelling cock-ups, or chucking out half a book, but all should add up to one thing - the goal that you have set yourself and the belief that you can get there. Writing the damn story is only the beginning, the rest is grafting until it is the best that it can possibly be.
Now, red pen anyone?