Tag Archives: editor

Edits Most Cruel

1 Jul
Spoor of the elusive 'wild editor'

Spoor of the elusive ‘wild editor’

Since it is July, I find myself taking on a new project. Is it because of some crazy, NaNoWriMo thing? Is it peer pressure? Is it the fact that my life is spiraling out of control and the one measurable thing I can cling to in this life is my work? A little of all of that, I guess. Like many writers, I do this because I cannot stop doing it. Neither words of advice nor reproachful looks can keep me away. Something, something, a fool to his folly…

I read. A lot, but in fits and starts. It is as if I forget that I’m addicted to words and fall into healthful habits, only to fall off the wagon and hang out with the wrong crowd again. And again. I’m omnivorous when it comes to my written media. I won’t turn my nose up at comic books, graphic novels, magazines, or even those free local papers. Fiction, non-fiction, anti-fiction, weird religious tracts – I’ll check it out, thanks. It is supposed to make you a better writer, after all. Even if you’re like me and write like your brain is on fire. Yeah, other people’s words are like fuel into the furnace.

I was reading through Donald Westlake’s ‘Thieve’s Dozen‘ – a lighthearted collection of short stories, all about his hapless thief, Dortmunder. I love Westlake’s work – especially his more hard-edged Parker books – and these stories make me happy. But my pleasant foray into the humorous criminal underbelly of NYC was sabotaged by the evidence of a previous reader. Take a look at the embedded picture, above. I highlighted the areas in red, but the marks should be clear: EDITS.

What kind of maniacal, workaholic editor would do such a thing? The chutzpah! The brass! The unmitigated, tenacious gall! You can add your own outraged comments below, if you like. I just can’t understand this. Now, I’ve seen lots of marks in books before. People make notes in the margins, or highlight a passage, and it never bothers me. But THIS? This is the literary equivalent to shouting warnings at the screen during a movie. (TIP: the people in the movie can’t hear you) And this wasn’t a galley copy or advanced proof. It was just a run of the mill used book. I want to track down this wild editor and shake ’em by their lapels. I want to roar at them, berate, and belittle them. “It’s too late to edit it now! The ship has sailed, my friend! It is in the hands of the public now! Let it go! Let. It. Go.”

But I know I will never find them. Even if I could, my words would not win them over. That editor is on a dark, dangerous path – mark my words. When you run out of your own material to work on – when you lack the common sense of restraint to stay your hand – the work of others is not safe. It gives me chills, just thinking about it.

And of course it’s made worse because those edits don’t make any sense! You fool! Westlake knew what the hell he was doing! Argh! The temerity! The jejune impudence! (did I use impudence yet?) The meretricious and sloppy patchwork of artless nudges! BAH! I say again, BAH.

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Have you ever encountered this kind of thing? A sort of unsolicited, ‘wild edit’ in the real world? My curiosity is piqued – almost as much as my ire is raised.


Things That Work, Part 1

13 Apr


Things That Work
Part 1

It was Monday morning and I was alone. I sat in front of the typewriter. My studio was quiet, with just a tiny level of traffic noise from the street. It was mid-spring, so the room was comfortable. Happy sunlight glowed through the old, stained skylight. Curls of steam rose like ethereal tendrils from my coffee cup next to my chair. I leaned forward quickly and typed as I nodded my head.

“Oh, that’s good,” I muttered as my fingers flew. Every time a digit struck my ears were rewarded with a satisfying clack. “Uh, ‘curls of steam… ethereal..’ yeah…”

I sat back and took a sip of the dark, earthy brew. It burned my lip and tongue, just on the edge of being too hot. The words floated through my mind and I returned to typing. When I got to the bottom of the page, I pulled the paper out and replaced it. The process was quick, now that I was used to it.

Another reflex took over and I tried to reach for my mouse. My hand paused in mid-air and I shook my head. My computer wasn’t even turned on. There was no way to check my email. If I wanted to look up how a word was spelled, or find out why shade-grown coffee was superior – or any other damned thing – it would have to wait. There was no internet in the studio, even if I was dying to distract myself. I adjusted my seat and got back to work.

Tuesday morning was rough. I was behind my normal schedule as I eased into the chair. My coffee was hot, even if my brain was only lukewarm. I turned on the laptop, opened up the file folder and selected the right document. As I sipped my coffee, my fingers flipped through the typewritten pages from yesterday. The feel of each raised letter on the paper was nice – a physical reminder of the work I had done.

I propped up the pages, in order, and began to type on the computer. The soft, super responsive keys barely made a sound. Fingers flew across the keyboard as my gaze scanned back and forth on the page. In the middle of the last paragraph I stopped and considered the wording. My mental dictionary picked out a better turn of phrase.

On page three, I took out a line of flat dialogue. The next paragraph was out of order. I highlighted the text and moved it to page one. Then I deleted two paragraphs that followed.

“Measure once, cut twice,” I murmured. I swallowed a long drink of coffee and laughed. “Or is it the other way around?”

When I got to the end, I spent a few minutes reading it all over. I scrolled down to the bottom and saved the whole thing. I dropped the typewritten pages on shelf next to my typewriter. After I downed the rest of my coffee, I decided to get a refill. My mind bounced around with words and descriptions. The sunlight was nice.

Back in the studio, I fed a new sheet of paper into the typewriter. I glanced at the last few paragraphs and started typing again. The air was filled with the crack and clatter of metal keys striking the blank slate. My words appeared, one letter at a time, imprinted into the paper itself with black ink. I fed page after page into the machine and page after page came out, covered with my words. It was a nice arrangement.

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And THAT is what works. For me. Sometimes. Except, ya know, when it doesn’t work. But I think that’s related to some other, even more serious problem.

Is it more convoluted? Does it make the whole process of writing longer, more complicated? Hell yes. But it also shuts up my internal editor. I think I may have mentioned this before: He is a world-class jerkface. Anything that shuts him up – so I can work – is a damned good thing.

Here’s why it works for me. I’m using a different physical device. The typewriter doesn’t have a backspace, or any way to delete what I’ve done. It is immediate and undoable. I made a deal with my internal editor. He can do whatever he wants when I transcribe it onto my laptop. It’s like an instant, on-the-fly editing job. But it allows me the freedom to get that first draft out of my system.

Do I feel funny, typing on a typewriter? Isn’t that what hipsters, or poseurs do? Honestly? Who gives a damn. I do what WORKS. And today, after all the pain and misery I’ve had to wade through, it was ME that worked. You do what you have to do. Whatever puts words on the page, my friend.