Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: Writing Wednesday: Writers, Readers, and Editors

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Writing Wednesday: Writers, Readers, and Editors

I was originally going to write something about manuscripts again this week, and going back over them to in print versus on the screen, but I think I'll save that for another time. I went to a critique group last night, and as I was falling asleep after getting home I had a bit of an epiphany. Anyone who has had their work critiqued by more than one person will tell you that you can get vastly different feedback about the same piece by different people. Part of learning to write is learning what to do with the feedback you receive.

I'm big on feedback. I like to get as much of it as possible, and as a result I like to have all kinds of different people go over my work. And I think that I can put all of them into the broad, venn-diagramy circles of reader, editor, or writer.

This is useful because each type of person tends to give a specific kind of feedback, and knowing what to expect from a person helps you figure out to whom you should give your work depending on what you need.

Writers, I have found, tend to try to guide you towards one particular style of writing. They are people who have spent a greater-than-average amount of time thinking about writing. They will often describe it as a "craft" and have probably read at least one how-to-write book. They have found a number of things that work for them and tend to press you to adopt those same ideas. They may occasionally treat stylistic rules (active verbs are better than passive verbs) with more reverence than grammatical rules (you cannot join two independent clauses with a comma). Some of them take great joy in formulas and jargon.

Editors try to guide you towards the style they think you're shooting for or that best suits a work. They can see both sides of most stylistic issues, and their job is not to tell you which is best but to help you optimize your prose for whatever you're going for. They know the formulas and the jargon, but they have also seen their limitations and tend to be ambivalent about them. They read more amateur writing than any other group of people in the world and as such are particularly averse to certain things that are common in said writing.

Readers just read. They have never picked up a how-to-write book. They may have read a few stories for their brother or sister or friend who wanted feedback, but on the whole most writing they encounter has already been published. Some of them read a lot. Some of them read a little. They are a very diverse group of people, but they will tend to tell you things like, "This doesn't make sense," "I thought this character was a dick," or "I had no idea what was happening when the fish-monster and the shapeshifting wolphin were fighting the giant octopus on Mars." They will point out problems. They will usually refrain from trying to solve them for you.

Editors and writers often overlap. Some writers are excellent editors. Some editors fixate on one style like writers do. Regardless, there are useful things to be had from all three. Writers can help shake you out of your own dogmatic ideas about writing. At the very least, they expose you to different ways of thinking about putting words together, and every once in a while something will click and you'll get something you can use from them. Editors are extremely useful, but will probably have little time for you if your mechanics aren't sound to begin with, because they get tired of saying the same things over and over again. Readers are perhaps the most useful of all, except when you have a problem that you don't know how to solve.

In other news, its dashed cold outside and the holidays are over. I am almost finished with my final edits on Soulwoven, and it should be out the door next week. How's that for meeting a New Year's resolution?

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