Thursday, August 23, 2007

Warning - we are approaching critical

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?



Debi said...

Supportive eyes? Sharp prod? Pointy stick? Now try to do it without the adjectives.

Ouch! And ouch again! Look, I'm sorry, right? It was just a joke ...

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

I'm still working on it Minx.

Writing more with my pen than my keyboard, and usually while I'm on the train to school.

But, I will get it to you as soon as possible. I think I ought to lock myself away for a long weekend and just do nothing but write. It's coming along, but it's chunks of good stuff, there needs to be flow and ebb and there is none right now. Just chunks.

I will send it your way as soon as it's semi pasted together. Consider it elementary, oh wise and wondrous one... and I look forward to your red pen... else, how would I ever improve?

Love your view here, btw, it's realistic and empathetic. A rare and precious blend, thank you lady.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore - ah my muse. Gotta keep my eye on him. And on Bali... but I'll post about Bali later.
Big hugs, thank you again.

Unknown said...

I have spoken to you about your humour before, Debris.

Keep working, Scarlett, I am (that is if I can get over Alper's little joke!).

Unknown said...

Oh well you've made me feel better about wanting to slap some people. As for the editing I agree that you need a fresh pair of eyes and I have a long line of them... meanwhile I need to finish, although I'm a little distracted at the mo by the cat fighting the paper bag that has stolen his mouse! Hey and Debi's back.

Jon M said...

Speaking as a grateful recipient of red ink splodges, I think it's a French saying, mighty Minx, but 'everyone thinks their own shit smells wonderful!'
You definitely need someone to point out that sometimes it's worth 'giving it a few minutes' before returning to the story. And as I said on V's blog it should be done humanely. A skill on it's own, editing is not for the faint-hearted, but it's a skill you own!

Unknown said...

Keep slapping, V, and then send 'em over here and I'll given them a slap as well.

You have to believe in that shit, Jon, as well.
And you're right, editing can be a tough process. Wanting to succeed helps get through those feelings of death and strangulation, blood and dismemberment!

(I am having a small blush btw)

Roberta said...

My dear Minx.

I lived for six years under the thumb of AOL as one of their personalities....along with Anna - now a life long friend.

I've given kind suggestions, edited and returned, reworded, copied and pasted until my eyes were crossed!!!

I adore reading your writing. I don't feel the need to give you a suggestion, or check your grammar. The pressure is off!

I like it that way.

My stuff, I sort of go over and edit "kinda" when I feel like it. My blog is from the heart. I don't feel the need to be in competition. I'm trying to get a thougth or an emotion across. I hope that I am sucessful.

I probably drive you insane.

Hoodie said...

Thanks for linking me!

I just barely posted about a guy I know who gave me his first five chapters and asked for feedback. A lot of what you said in this post will be very beneficial in my current situation.


Unknown said...

Very well said, Minx.
I've just spent the past week critiquing my writing buddy's manuscript, she's doing mine. For a start, I chucked away the red pen and used a pencil instead. As I said on V's blog the critiquing process shouldn't just point out what doesn't appear to work - to the reader (after all, it is only an opinion)- but it should also keep the writer nurtured and encouraged - so look for what doesn't work and what works. Face it, we don't want people going off and slitting their wrists because we've gone and played Hitler with their precious creation.
It's a fine line critiquing and editing and it takes, from both parties, honesty, maturity and trust.

Marie said...

Definitely agree with you, Minx.

John said...

How's that adorable foot?

Unknown said...

Roberta, I don't need anyone else to do it, I can drive myself insane quite happily!

Hoodie, I went back and read this post. Some people will not, or cannot, listen to the opinions of others. Supporting someone's work at this stage is just that - support. If he thinks he knows better then you should just let him get on with it. As I said, writing the thing is only just the very beginning of a long, hard, often impossible process.

Unknown said...

Aty, some people have come for a second mangling (edit) so I assume that I am getting something right.
Working with children has always made me very conscious of remembering my own learning experiences. No good saying "That paragraph is dreadful, you twat" but then again.....heh.

Some wouldn't, Marie!

The adorable foot is mending, thank you, Carver. One had to purchase a rather nice pair of soft, silver ballet pumps to aid the healing. Oh shame.

Vesper said...

It's good to have well intentioned people reviewing your work; people who will critique it in good faith, that is not demolish it gratuitously or praise it just because they're afraid of hurting your feelings.
I think you're wonderfully generous, darling Minx, to share your knowledge, experience, and time with aspiring writers.

merry weather said...

Reading this made me think ... particularly about the tuning and altering afterwards. It's a strange process, writing. I find sometimes, in my limited experience, that I have to get the first version out to make way for the one I actually want to use. If you know what I mean - ?

Unknown said...

Vesper, I am an aspiring writer!

Unknown said...

We all work in different ways, Merry. I used to think my writing process (Goddess, what a horribly cold expression) was completely loopy until I read about other people.

You can learn about characterisation, structure etc but no one can teach you how. Follow your nose and adapt as needed.

Taffiny said...

oh please don't go on..

"writing the thing is only just the very beginning of a long, hard, often impossible process"

Reminds me of pregnancy, you think getting the child out is the hard part, you agonize and stress, fear over the act of labor, but then after you have the child, you realize the true hard part has just begun, taking care of, nurturing, molding, disciplining,...
Goodness, don't tell me how hard this thing is going to be to raise, when my story has been in breach for years!!

When I get that far, it will be very hard for me to be brave and find the criticism I need. I hope I can find someone I trust.

Unknown said...

Taffiny, best start finding that rhino skin now.

Taffiny said...

Where do you purchase it?

Or is it one of those horrible things, that money can't buy, and you can't go foraging for in the wood behind your house, something that you have to develop "gasp" from within yourself!!

Growing rhino skin, what is the process? Bet it takes a long time, and grows really slowy. And hurts a bit each time before more of it comes and covers you. Probably like growing scabs, you got to hurt and bleed a bit first, before it forms.

Art Durkee said...

Nicely said, Minx. A good list of editing requirements. Would that more editors actually practiced this.

Trust is so very central to all of this, far more than most people ever mention. You're right onthe money there. I have two or three people I can trust to be brutally honest yet impersonal; so the critique I get from them is invaluable. Most other critique is luke-warm at best. But then, I often find myself as a poet shoved into the "experimental" ghetto, for whatever it is I'm doing seems outside the pale. Trust becomes even more valued, then.