Last night, I had another brief distraction from the novellas in the form of the need to review the copy edited manuscript of “The Legend of Parker Clark and Lois Jane.” This is the story that will be published soon in the Fiction River anthology titled “How to Save the World.” It’s always interesting to get a manuscript back after copy edit, because no matter how much you think it’s perfect in every way, a good copy editor can make it better.
I’m thinking a lot about this aspect of things lately due to the workshop, and due to the fact that I’ve now got several things in various stages of production. And, I guess, because of the talk I did last October on rewriting. So many (new) writers think that “writing” is about word choice and perfect grammar and running spell check. Don’t get me wrong–all those are important in the end. But writing is not about any of those things to me.
Writing, to me, is about story. It’s about the events that happen and it’s about the characters that they happen to and it’s about what the reader walks away with. Of course you need to pick good words, and of course you need to present them in a way that is clear to the reader. But grammar, spelling, and even (to a lesser degree) finding that perfect word in the perfect place, are things that fit in my mind better in the “production line” side of the process (wherein a great story is made to shine like the diamond it is).
And yet, when I talk to newer writers or folks who are not yet thinking about things in what I’ll (so grandiosely) call professional ways, all they focus on are the words. They want the words to sound pretty together. I’m not sure what drives this. Perhaps it’s a thing wrapped up in the urge not to look silly that we humans have. Words that don’t go together well kid of clunk together and make us appear stupid. So, yeah, I get that. In addition, the words you use do have this essence of definition of your art–powerful use of language can be a joy to read all in itself.
But in the end, we have barely any ability to affect those things. We are who we are, and in the end that is enough. Our words, assuming a base-level ability to use them at all, are just fine. And manuscripts will rarely be rejected for a misplaced word here or there, whereas they will almost certainly be rejected for a story that just doesn’t work.
So, I think at these times, why is it that when new writers think of rewriting, they think of line editing and copy editing (which are product-line, preparation processes, and which can be outsourced) rather than content editing and storytelling analysis (which are, in my thinking) the real skills a writer needs to have?
Anyway, this morning it was back to the novella’s, where I’m up to about page 80 of episode five. All is moving along nicely.