Monday, July 28, 2008

On Writing

There are few things in the world as silly as a pretentious writer. Man is a vain animal, but writers have their own special sort of vanity. For exhibit 1,116, I submit this newspaper writer's tirade against a copy editor for removing an indefinite article--an "a"--from his copy. Here's a taste:

I don't really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of tinkering. I do not enjoy the suggestion that you have a better ear or eye for how I want my words to read than I do. Owen, we discussed your turning three of my long sentences into six short ones in a single piece, and how that wasn't going to happen anymore, so I'm really hoping it wasn't you that fucked up my review on saturday.

It was the final sentence. Final sentences are very, very important. A piece builds to them, they are the little jingle that the reader takes with him into the weekend.

You probably think it couldn't get any worse, but it does. (And not just because the tirade is being performed in public.)

What few readers--and sadly, few writers--seem to understand is that while writing is a solitary act, publishing is not. Publishing is a group effort. Someone writes the piece. Someone else lays it out. Some other worker finds art to accompany it. Another person works the code to post it online. A whole army of people lug the papers to the news stands so that the public can purchase them. The writer does the most work in the production, and gets nearly all of the credit, but there's a huge apparatus helping to make the publication of his work possible.

Look, every working writer gets a bad edit from time to time. Editors can sometimes make your copy less elegant and even insert mistakes. But they can also vastly improve your work. And I don't know any writer who hasn't found himself on both sides of the equation.

But when an editor subtracts value, to go after them in public, acting as though they were making happy-to-glad changes to Shakespeare is ridiculous and betrays a lack of understanding as to what a writer's job entails: a large part of which is enduring edits, even those which you may not like.


Anonymous said...

Good point. Though, the obnoxious prick writer has a good point too.

Anonymous said...

Final sentences are apparently so important that the final sentence in your bitch about editing can contain a comma splice.

Which law is it that states every attempt to correct grammar or spelling will have at least one error in it?