Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Words! Words! Words!

One of the problems of being both author and editor happens when said sad individual (me) tries to read for pleasure. I wouldn’t be in this sorry mess if it weren’t for the fact that I love reading. The blame can be dropped squarely in JRR Tolkien’s lap, as well as subsequent authors such as Ursula K Leguin, David Eddings, Ann McCaffrey, Neil Gaiman, Poppy Z Brite and others, who filled my teenaged head with the wild notion that I, too, could one day write books or pursue a career in publishing.

Granted, nowadays, my time for reading has been curtailed severely. I sneak in ebooks while I work (one of the benefits of .PDF documents, which can conveniently be minimised) and read for exactly one hour each day on the train in the afternoons. These novels are, invariably, review books. My feedback is published with a review website, as well as South African newspapers.

Review books are, generally, within the genres I’ll read (fantasy, SF, horror and paranormal romance) but are not the books on my “to read” list. No, those books languish on my hard drive or on my bedside table, which by now resembles the leaning tower of printed material slowly trying to topple onto me while I sleep.

Reviewing books has some benefits. For instance, I have now discovered that I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, read Laurel K Hamilton willingly. You’d have to hold a gun to my head. I would never have discovered this if I didn’t review books. Likewise, I’m now eternally a Giles Kristian fangrrrl and I’ve interviewed him for the newspapers. Now THAT rocks!

But…

I also read submissions for one of my publishers, for whom I’m under contract as a content editor. These are either cold submissions, where I have to read a good few pages before I can decide whether a manuscript blows my hair back, or will be a submission from one of my existing authors, whose writing won’t make me want to gouge my eyes out with a ballpoint pen.

Somewhere, between these activities and my day-job as a sub-editor at a newspaper publisher, I still find the time to edit manuscripts and, oh, gosh, write a little on my own. (Add disclaimer: I do not have children. Also, I do not have a social life beyond a meal or drinks with friends here and there or Facebook.)

So… **takes deep breath** It is a rare thing indeed if I read something I want to.

People keep telling me, “Oh you must read so-and-so.”

I sort of look at them blankly and say, “That’s nice dear. I’d love to.” Of course the chances of me reading a book someone recommends are about as good as a snowball’s survival in Hell. I still have a friend’s copy of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, somewhere in the pile on my bedside table. I want to read it. I just don’t know when.

So, here are two of my pet gripes:

Publishers that have sub-par editing. It drives me absolutely dilly when I read published works riddled with homophone and apostrophe abuse, weak transitions, typographical errors, misplaced modifiers, plot holes… I see it. All the time. It makes me want to claw my way up the walls. Mostly, all I can do is point and laugh. Human error creeps in everywhere, it just depends how much of it is concentrated in one manuscript.

Authors who make the same mistakes over and over again: this dubious honour I also extend to newspaper sub-editors and writers who, despite years of being exposed to years of house style and proofing, insist on repeating the same mistakes. This suggests that the idiot with the red pen clutched in her hand (that’s me) is wasting her time trying to communicate the need for improvement so that my job (proofing and editing text) can be made easier and said offending wordsmith becomes better at doing their job. And also not run the risk of defenestration from a third-storey window.

Or maybe I’m just OCD. Maybe it’s my mother’s fault. She used to be an English teacher. Maybe I need to go on a long holiday on a remote farming hamlet where there is no electricity and they’ve conveniently hidden all form of written word. Just for a while until I stop frothing and get more than four or five hours’ sleep a night.

Or maybe I’m just crazy, because whenever someone has told me “Hey, your writing sucks badly here, here and here…” I’ve generally sucked up my pride and made damn sure I didn’t make the same mistake again.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, shaping words is my passion and if I’m your editor, I’m going to be absolutely vicious. I’m going to make you do horrible, nasty things to your darlings, but I’m doing it because I love your writing. I wouldn't be tearing it pieces if I didn't see ways to make it so much better.

3 comments:

cathellisen said...

One of the things with writing (and, I'm sure, editing) is that if you're working hard on your craft, your eyes are opened to mistakes in published books that you've been working hard to eradicate in your own work.

On top of being annoying, it also stings. There's a whiny little voice in most of us going "but why is she allowed to [insert writing flaw here] and if i do it, my crit partners throw rocks at me?"

After I first began writing I found it really difficult to be forgiving of bad writing in published work, but I'm mellowing out again these days.

Nerine Dorman said...

There's the stuff the big names are allowed to get away with. No names mentioned. **grins**

But then there's just plain stupid.

Julia Barrett said...

Interesting. Now that I write, I read with an increasingly critical eye. It kind of removes some of the pleasure from 'fun' reading. But when I stumble across a fabulous book, well-written and edited, man...what a treat!
And yes, big name writers have lots of bad habits - habits I'm not allowed to indulge in. :)
You have a very interesting job/s.