Editor Vs. Author – Finding the Balance

Happy Friday, everyone!

I don’t normally talk about the specifics of projects I’ve been working on, but today I’m going to nudge that habit aside just for a moment, because it brought up some interesting food for thought. One of my recent clients works as a translator in addition to her own writing, and I was contracted to look over a short story that had been translated into English. The nature of the job and a friendly peer discussion on our freelancing careers subsequently brought up the topic of how to keep the integrity of the originals we work with — or in my case with this contract, an original translation of an original.

Of course I can’t speak for the challenges translators face, as I myself do not have fluency in a second language, but I have always held them in awe. Not only is there the technical accuracy aspect of translation, but to then balance that with equally-accurately translating the intent of the author and the subtleties of connotation is mind-boggling to me. Seriously, hug any translator you come across, or  anyone using a language outside of their mothertongue to any degree for that matter. Having worked with several clients for whom English is not their first language, my admiration remains undimmed!

Editors encounter this balancing act to a lesser degree. While of course our primary job is to ensure readability and technical accuracy of a text, we too seek to preserve the integrity of the original, particularly when it comes to more creative texts. Otherwise, many would run the risk of sounding the same and your favorite authors would not have their unique voice, nor some of your favorite stories or poems their boundary-stretching (or convention-breaking) forms. For example, anyone who has delved into Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves will tell you that if an editor had gone through the (arduous) task of revising the novel to a typical layout and style and it had been published as such, then it would not be House of Leaves. Likewise, we would not have the technically-grammatically-incorrect but stylistically-significant punctuation and syntactic choices of e e cummings.

Herein lies your editor’s challenge: to determine whether you have set additional stylistic rules for yourself (and perhaps then broken them, deliberately) on top of the rules of the language (and form) in which you are writing. Then, once this is determined, to decide whether the breaking is worth it. Although I’m not familiar with the initial publication history of either cummings or Danielewski and thus how long it took their unconventional style to be accepted for publication, it’s safe to say that although they eventually found an editor and publisher that believed it was worth it, that this is not something that happens every day. Often, it will not be worth it because the rule-setting and -breaking has been done inconsistently, or weakly, and ends up crippling an otherwise perfectly decent text. Other times, the form in which you are writing simply cannot allow additional rule-setting or -breaking, such as a civil report or legal document with set styles. The key to helping your editor out in this regard — as well as being good advice for your writing in general — is as Picasso said: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

We will do our best to retain your unique voice as long as it is worthwhile. While this may sound cold, remember that if a text is ultimately unreadable, it is useless — and surely that is the endgame for any writer in any medium?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject!

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

How to Manage Your Drafts

Happy Friday, everyone!

Receiving suggestions and mark-ups from editors and friends is one of the most highly-anticipated – if not exciting – things about the entire editorial process, as a writer. It also stands to reason that eventually, no matter what kind of documents you work with, your harddrive or filing cabinet is going to fill up with bushels of drafts. Which is great, because you want to keep old drafts – what if you lose a current one? What if you change your mind and want to go back to the approach you took last month on that chapter? Trust me, it’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

But even for the most organized among us, keeping track of which is what – and thus avoiding redundant work – can prove tricky. Here’s some tips!

  1. Filing system? What filing system? – If this is you, this is the first thing you need to tackle. Regardless of whether your documents are digital or physical, where you keep them is of utmost importance. For one thing, all the time you normally spend looking for something can be better-spent working on that something. Separate things into categories – don’t put your vacation photos in the same box as your resume, or those documents you need for your job in the same one as that novel you’re working on. From there, organization can be done in a number of ways depending on the category you’re working with. For example, photos or tax documents are be best organized by date, while files belonging to different clients may be best-placed in files with the client’s name. Under the main file heading of one of my novels, I have sub-files for notes and old drafts while the current work-in-progress draft stands alone. The crucial part is that folder and file names are recognizable to you.
  2. Speaking of names, keep them concise and informative. If you’re working with a series of files all related to one another, decide on a naming convention and stick to it. For example, when I’m editing a series of instructor handouts that are all science labs for a particular module, I’ll use something like: ‘Course Abbreviation, Unit Number, Module: Individual Topic’. And please don’t stick with the automatic first-line file name Word auto-populates for you when you save a file for the first time. If you have a version that’s geared more toward your field of IT, compared to your other version that’s geared more toward teaching, you may want to name them ‘Resume – IT’ and ‘Resume – Teaching’ to distinguish between the two and avoid an embarrassing mix-up. Same goes for different drafts of the same document.
  3. When saving a file, determine the difference between significant and minor changes (and thereby whether you need just the ‘Save’ button or the ‘Save As’ button). This will help you keep file numbers to a minimum. If you’re merely correcting a typo or two, that’s minor – you want to keep that change in subsequent versions of that document. If you get rid of an entire character from a scene, or abridge an article for magazine publication, that’s major. A good rule of thumb is to save something separately (and name accordingly) if you’re not sure about the changes, or otherwise don’t want them to be permanent. I also advise doing this with cosmetic changes (such as font) with professional documents, and documents that aren’t your own – it’s always a good idea to keep a copy of the unchanged original.

Oops! I have five documents that all pretty much have the same name! How can I tell the difference and which do I keep?

Fear not. There’s a couple of tricks you can use, and they involve letting Microsoft’s file viewer do the work. First of all, the file viewer enables you to sort files according to ‘Date modified’ – the one with the most recent date is, naturally, the one you worked on last. It’ll also display the file size – the larger the file size, the longer the contents in all likelihood. Rename as soon as you determine the difference – remember you’ll need to exit the file then rename it in the folder itself, rather than doing a ‘Save As’. If it helps you to put ‘last edited’ dates or ‘Longer Version’ in the file name, go for it! Also note that Word has the handy little feature of document auto-recovery if you forget to save and your computer shuts down (though it is by no means a replacement for diligence).

If you typically work in auto-save programs such as GoogleDocs, you may run into a problem with keeping old versions. You’ll either need to physically copy the entire document into a new one in order to have it then auto-save itself as a new version, or you can switch the ‘Editing’ mode to ‘Suggesting’ mode on yourself, so that changes aren’t made permanent until you tell them to be. If you prefer, you can use this tactic in Word with its ‘Track Changes’ feature in addition to saving separately. I’ll be talking about in-document change-tracking in more detail another time.

Remember that keeping yourself organized is key to keeping professional. I’d love to hear some of the techniques you’ve found that work for you! Questions, too, are always welcome.

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

Ten Ways to Build Writing Confidence

Happy Friday, everyone!

In previous posts, you may remember me mentioning the importance of creation before you can even begin to contemplate editing. Sounds obvious, right? Maybe even easy? A second glance, however – or a second sit-down at the desk to stare at a blank page – reveals that often, it’s the exact opposite. In today’s post I want to take a little detour from our usual fare of editing and the like to talk about writing.

First, let’s get a misconception out of the way – there’s no ‘magic cure’. There will be days where the words just don’t flow, and everyone has them. There’s no hard science that will instantly make everyone prolific. Much of it boils down to practice, experience, and discipline. Yet there are some factors that you can influence in order to make practicing – and thus discipline – come more easily, and lead to experience. Many of these will overlap with those I’ve mentioned in ‘When Editing Is Bad’.

  1. Give your writing – and yourself – due respect. Recognize that this effort is just as important as any other pursuit. Often we become inhibited by thoughts such as “I’m not good at this, so why should I bother?” or “But this has already been talked about.”. They’re often grounded in falsehood and sabotage you before you even begin. Own what you’re doing.
  2. Following on from the above, build an environment that will best cultivate this fledgling habit. This could include setting aside a particular time/day, setting deadlines or goals if they help you or removing them if they don’t, finding a dedicated space in which the writing happens, noise levels, and so on. You may find that this is a work-in-progress in of itself, or that it varies depending on what you’re working on.
  3. Find a support network. There are an unbelievable amount of writers out there and just as many readers, but instead of finding this daunting, know that there are a nearly equal number of groups where you can share your writing and get feedback and encouragement. Likewise, enlist the help of friends and family for additional encouragement (I promise you, I get more encouraging remarks than sneers when I say I’m a writer). No one does this alone, and feedback will be crucial to your improvement.
  4. Find a method that works best for you. You could be a plan-it-out-to-the-last-detail writer, with oodles of notes and bullet-pointed frameworks, or you could be a “I’m going to start in the middle and see what happens” sort. You could prefer writing by hand or by typing or by dictating and transcribing. Everyone works differently and no method is better than another.
  5. Gather what external resources you need for the particular work. If you need to write webcopy for a client, make sure you know what they want; if you’re contracted to write an article on growing tomatoes, read up on tomato-growing; if you’re writing a historical novel set in Jamaica in the 1800s, do your research; if you’re experimenting with ghazals as a poetic form, study lots of ghazals; if you’re writing the next best sci-fi novel, watch a bunch of sci-fi movies or spend an hour or two on Pinterest to get inspired.
  6. Practice. Scribble thoughts in a notebook or on post-its as you go about your day. Keep GoogleDocs open. Write down all your thoughts at the end of the day. Journal. Whatever works best for you. The idea is that the more accustomed you grow to physically articulating your thoughts and seeing them there on the page, the more normal the action will become for you.
  7. Read widely. The truth of the matter is that, if nothing else, reading widely will show you what’s possible.
  8. Try not to pigeonhole yourself – or be too strict – in the beginning. Started a romance novel that ended up wanting to be a mystery? Got halfway through your essay and ended up changing your own viewpoint? What was supposed to be mere tangential evidence in your thesis becomes the thing you’re actually interested in? It happens! The important bit is that you wrote.
  9. Try not to get too caught up in making it perfect the first go round. Editing can come later. Just get it out for now.
  10. You cannot make everyone happy. There are going to be people who love your work, and others who can’t stand it. Building up a thick skin is part of being a writer. The most important thing is, as Philip Pullman says, to write to please yourself. Write the novel, or poem, or critical article, or biography – whatever it may be – for you.

I know not everyone is aiming to make writing into a fullblown career. Some folks just want to be more confident when it comes time to write up that quarterly report for the boss, or feel pretty good about their college entrance essay. All of these are valid reasons to improve one’s writing skills – humans are social creatures that, introvert or extrovert though we may be, need communication in order to feel fulfilled. Writing is just one of those ways, and it opens so many doors.

In a year, you’d wish you’d started today.

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan