Sunday, December 07, 2008

Wanted: A Good Hack'n'Slash Artist

When I was eleven, I knew I was a writer. I knew it the same way that I knew my hair was brown and that my nose was too big for my face. It was a throw-away fact of my existence, like co-existing with my brother, avoiding homework when I could, and breathing. I was a writer. I didn't think of it as anything special and I never presumed that I would ever, ever make a living at it. This is how I ended up with my variety of job descriptions -- jack-of-all-trades at McDonald's, courier for a radiologist, AC apprentice, Journeyman Boilermaker (I still miss welding), and a stay-at-home-mom who's trying her hand at homeschooling. The romantic garret and the starving poet lifestyle were never for me; give me a solid income doing what I have to do and I'll write in the off-hours. Nobody is ever going to beat down my door for the All American Novel and nothing in this fact distresses me in the least.

For a while I really wanted to just be published in a nationally recognized venue -- a magazine, a major publishing house, something like that. Looking back I think this was because I felt that being a published author gave me some sort of stamp of approval; that being published meant that I was, at long last, a good writer. I was disabused of this notion the more I learned of the business I meant to be in. Being published means that the industry thinks it can make money on this manuscript and nothing else. There is a minimum threshold of competence, of course, but I've read one too many novels that I would not have deigned to waste the match it took to burn it, and I am by no means a literary snob. I think that being a popular novel is no bar to being good literature, and that many of the pieces being passed off as good literature get that label not because they are good, but because they are difficult to read and boring to boot. Stephen King has some fairly cruddy work on the market, but his best writing is classic and I have no doubt that it will stand the test of time.

Now, in my grim middle age, I don't have the desire to have a best-selling novel on the lists. It would be nice if it happened, and if there was a shot at it I'd probably work my tail off to get there. I just don't have the requisite obsession to pursue it. What I want as a writer is to be the best one I can possibly be. If I want a printed and bound copy of my work, well, there's In fact, that's the route I am going to be taking just as soon as I have something worthwhile to bind. And, as Hamlet so ruefully noted, there's the rub. I want it to be the best I am capable of. I won't settle for anything less. I'm not an uber-perfectionist -- I married one of those, and one in a family is quite enough, thank you -- I just want there to be coherency, cohesiveness, and grammatical correctness. I want my beginning, middle, and end to gibe with one another. I want my beginning, middle, and end to be in that order. However many storylines I try to pack into my piece, I want them all resolved by the time The End gets tacked on. I want to be called on my prose, which tends to tint purple, wax poetical, and go on far too long.

In short, I need a good hack'n'slash artist, also known as a hellaciously good (while possessing saintly patience) editor. I had a good one in my mother. She never pulled a punch, no matter what skill we were learning. When my brother won a chess game, it was fair and square and he knew it. When I wrote a story it was a given that it would come back drenched in red ink until I got all the kinks worked out. Not to say she was always right in her criticisms but it was good practice in defending my choices and honing my skills. I've been looking for a good replacement editor ever since my mother died. They're rarer than hen's teeth.

This is not to say that I wouldn't hire a professional editor. I just think that the time to hire a professional is after I've got as many problems knocked out on my own as possible. Professionals are expensive and I just don't have the discretionary funds to spend lavishly on my hobby. Anything I send out of house has got to be the most polished draft I can make it, given that it's likely to be a one time deal.

When that is done, and I have something that I'm comfortable that I've done my best with, I'm going to spend the money it will take to get one or two copies for my shelf. And if that's all I do at the end of the day, as long as it's my best, it will be more than enough.

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