Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What We Talk About When We Talk About Editors - A Guest Post By Jocelyn Pruemer

A few weeks ago, I received the following message from a Karen Miranda of AutoCrit.

"I came across and wanted to contact you about providing some content for your site, or the possibility of contributing. We offer tips for creative writers, cover topics that focus on the insights into fiction writing and discuss the current landscape of publishing. I wanted to see if we could contribute an article/blog post to your site."

Without it even occurring  to me that her company makes editing software, I told her, "I'd be interested in a piece on the need for good editors & editing."  Later, I received the following piece written by Karen's colleague, Jocelyn Pruemer.

Jocelyn Pruemer is an integral member of the AutoCrit team and is focused on providing quality feedback to authors looking to improve the readability and polish of their book.

While the end of the piece reads a bit like a commercial, the piece does contain an interesting perspective on the value of good editing.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Editors
Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Pruemer.
If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class, you’re probably familiar with Raymond Carver. The undisputed master of post-war minimalism, Carver, and his 1981 collection of stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, is unfailingly presented to every eager freshman English student as the be-all and end-all of modern American short fiction (seriously, if you were to ask my first-year creative writing teacher, he’d probably tell you there hasn’t been a book published before or since). And it’s easy to see why. His stories are spare, ambivalent, yet loaded with pathos, his prose-style is as lean as it is precise. It’s often what isn’t said in a Carver story that matters most, making the profound gut wrenching impact of his best works seem almost accidental. It wasn’t.

What they usually don’t tell you in creative writing 101 is that Raymond Carver wasn’t really Raymond Carver. Raymond Carver was really Raymond Carver AND Gordon Lish. That is to say, without Lish, his editor, Carver would have been a completely different writer. When Lish first got his hands on what would become What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, he famously whittled it down to literally half its original size. He mercilessly rearranged, deleted and rewrote line after line of Carver’s bloated prose. What is now recognized as Carver’s signature style of minimalistic gritty realism was really all Gordon Lish. Without him I think it’s safe to say that Carver’s name never would’ve warranted inclusion in the short fiction pantheon among the likes of Chekhov, Joyce and O’Connor.  Carver eventually got fed up with Lish’s rapacious editing style and severed their relationship. His writing suffered.
From the world-renowned author to the lowliest scribbler and everyone in-between, every single writer on the planet has one thing in common: the need for a good editor. I don’t care if your medium is the bildungsroman, the blog or the bible tract, if you don’t have someone you can trust checking your work along the way, it probably isn’t worth reading.
Unfortunately for most of us, especially fiction writers, editors can be difficult to come by. As an amateur novelist, poet, short story writer etc. your options for an extra set of eyes are usually few. Maybe you have a couple of friends or a spouse who’s willing to read your work, which is always nice, but they love you, and don’t want to hurt your feelings, so it can be difficult to tell whether or not they’re being as brutally honest as you need them to be. Writing workshops tend to be more helpful in this regard, but they too usually lack the cold Gordon Lishian disregard for your ego that makes for a good editor. So unless you have a book deal, or are willing and able to pay a ridiculous sum of money to hire a freelance editor, you’re pretty much on your own.

This is why I’ve found online editing applications so essential. All you have to do is enter in your manuscript and in seconds it scans the entire thing and picks it apart with the machine-like precision you look for in a good human editor. It finds and highlights the usual problems any decent creative writing instructor will warn you about (e.g. adverbs, clich├ęs, passive voice indicators, repetitive phrases, etc.) making it easy for you to hunt down your errors and make the necessary corrections. There are a few great one’s out there, but I’d have to say that AutoCrit tops the list because of its ‘Compare to Fiction’ feature which will automatically compare your writing to a massive database of successful published authors so you can see how your own work stacks up—which is sort of intimidating, but also quite helpful.

Unlike your best friend, or your workshop partners, or even the Gordon Lishes of the world for that matter, AutoCrit and its digital contemporaries don’t miss a single thing. For better or worse all of your amateurish flaws are accounted for, quantified and reflected back at you in brilliant Editor’s Pen Red. Of course, unlike a Gordon Lish, these applications will not go ahead and make the changes for you, leaving the difficult and unsavory task of killing your babies entirely to you. So while an editing application certainly can’t take the place of a professional editor, it can still do many things a human editor can’t. Which means that while it might not be able to singlehandedly mold you into the next Raymond Carver, when used in conjunction with your other resources it is an excellent tool to have in your authorial arsenal.

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