Editing & Grammar

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I worked as an editor once. This was back when a career in publishing still felt possible. First I was assistant, then coordinator at successive academic houses directly connected to my alma matter. After a couple of years of that I made the jump to freelance copy-editing.

Freelancing was interesting and challenging.

I had this client –  he was determined to strike it rich, and if regular work and gambling didn’t get him there then goshdarnit he was going to be a bestselling author and would I edit his book?

I was skeptical, but interested. Did he know I only copy-edited? Oh yes, yes of course; he knew all the things. Well!

Thankfully by this point I was a bit savvy and had him sign a contract and pay me a deposit. Thankfully, because he handed me 12 rough pages of bullet points and – despite signing a contract that clearly outlined my scope and purview as a copy-editor –  he stated that he expected me to turn his 12 pages of bullet points into his book. In about a week. And he was outraged! incredulous! when I handed him back his pages with a few nicely typed pages of my own on top with suggestions for next steps.

I remembered this as I was reading Ursula K. LeGuin’s book about craft.  It’s great of course; well written, interesting, solid exercises; just as you’d expect. She writes:

Careless grammar is bad design plus sand in the gears and the wrong size gaskets.

-p. 21. Kindle Edition

Perfect, right? I lived and breathed grammar for so long that I don’t think of it the way I used to and so picked up her book for a refresher and to learn more new things, of course!

I’m not  a stickler though. Oh no. don’t you confuse me for one of those infuriatingly smug grammarians, red-penning it up all over the place.

One of my top 5 favorite things about language is that it’s very nature, the core of it if you will, is it’s fluidity. I love the grace and ease with which it flows.

To me, language is a river, and our usage is all the things in the river: the stones and plants, the rose petals and tossed love-letters, the fishies and dragonflys, but also the McDonalds wrappers, dead birds, detritus and flotsam and jetsam that gets picked up along the way and flows merrily along together to form one whole and imperfect changing thing.

If You Want to Write

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A few years ago I read John Gardner‘s “The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers.” In that book, Gardner referenced another book by Brenda Ueland – If you Want to Write. I skimmed the book, but was full of  Gardner‘s ideas and methods and anxious to apply them, such that I didn’t really give Ueland’s book the attention it probably deserved.

I was pleasantly surprised then when my instructor in the writing course I’m currently taking referenced Ueland’s book in the very first lesson. The reference she used was so clear, and practical, and directly applicable to my writing that I was struck with how important it is to have the right information at the right time; that all the great tips, tricks, thoughts in the world don’t do me any good unless I’m in a time and place in which I can be thoughtful and receptive.

For me, in addition to a great lesson in writing, it was a great lesson to be mindful and open and to consider things more carefully when presented with them, rather than just rush to complete the task I’m on. Hopefully this will help me be a better writer!

Character Studies

I’m finally ready to start my new novel. In the past I’ve outlined the plot and let the characters and geography follow. But after reading “Write Away: One’s Writer’s Approach to the Novel” by Elizabeth George (Harper Collins eBooks, 2009), I’ve decided to try a new approach. I’m going to follow her advice and create a complete outline for the main character first:

“That’s where I want to begin, then…with character. Not with idea? … We will get to that. But if you don’t understand that story is character and not just idea, you will not be able to breathe life into even the most intriguing flash of inspiration.”
-Write Away: One’s Writer’s Approach to the Novel, Elizabeth George (Harper Collins eBooks, 2009, pg. 4).

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I had always thought that plot should lead and that I could choose character traits that would support the plot events I wanted to include. It feels a bit overwhelming to change my usual methods so much but I need to change up what I’ve done in the past and George presents such a convincing argument that I’m determined to try:

“An event alone cannot hold a story together. Nor can a series of events. Only characters effecting events and events affecting characters can do that.”
-Write Away: One’s Writer’s Approach to the Novel, Elizabeth George (Harper Collins eBooks, 2009, pg. 4).

She provides a template for a character sketch at the end of the book that I’ve transcribed to my Scrivener file.

Hopefully this will lead to a richer story and a better book!