February 11, 2015

Edit Me...

Oh, yeah. Edit me so hard... Wait, no. That's not what I wanted to say. I wanted to say that I am an editor who is often edited. So I am allowed to experience both sides of the pie. No, not pie. Both pieces of the coin. Flips of the angle? I'm no good with idioms.

I do my best as an editor not to step on other people's words. (Although that has happened before, to my chagrin. And I've definitely improved over the years.) I know what words mean. I know how hard writers work. I play the role of the liaison between publisher and author, and I have gone to bat over and over on the behalf of authors. I've even pitched a fit over a semicolon. Well, for the removal of one. There is one CE who has a war on fragments, and who likes to replace them with semicolons. If you did that to Raymond Chandler, you'd skew his whole style.

(Note to self: Fragments. Whole other post.)

But I was falling backwards down memory lane (during a massive cleaning of my filing cabinet), and I recalled one of my first edited stories. The piece was called Here Comes the Sun. It was about a delusional man who literally thought he was the sun. He lived in a run-down apartment. He ate Raisin Bran (because there was a sun on the box). And at the end of the piece, he climbed to the top of his building and jumped. Or rose. Depending on your point of view.

The piece was the first shot at writing fiction I'd had in my high school AP English class. All year, we'd been writing essays on Billy Budd, The Heart of Darkness, The Invisible Man. But this time, we were given the freedom to write whatever we wanted within a word count.

I wrote my ass off. And when the papers were turned back to us, I had been awarded a two. A two out of fourteen. There was a key on the board that showed what the numbers equalled. Two equalled "deficient." Two basically meant I had spelled my name wrong, titled the piece with a dingbat, dipped the essay in molasses, rolled it around in the dirt, and spit on it as I handed it in.

No one else got a two.

Let me tell you also that I had already been writing professionally for several years. I'd ghostwritten mad-lib style stories and been paid $1000 as a freshman. I penned a weekly column in the high school paper and I'd had non-fiction pieces published in magazines. One of my columns was even reprinted in a medical journal.

I wasn't a "two" writer. Whatever you thought of my words—they were joined together in actual sentences, spelled correctly, properly punctuated.

The paper shook in my hand. My face flushed. I was aghast.

At lunch, I visited the professor's office and during our discussion I discovered he had not graded the papers himself. He had given the papers to a mother of one of the students who did some sidework for him. The mother had thought my story was anti-Christian. She had not graded my work on merit but on her own emotions.

The professor could not simply read the piece and give me a new grade. (Because he had a massive ego.) He perused my paper in front of me, and then he said, "Oh, look. You didn't put a lot of description into this one scene where your character is walking up the stairs. If you add in that the stairs have a urine-scent, I will regrade your paper."

Yup. I had to put the stench of old pee into my paper and then he re-evaluated it and he gave me a 13/14.

The injustice floored me.

But I did learn something important:

Not all stories will work for all readers. Sometimes someone will give a perfectly delightful story a deficient grade—because... well, because they didn't like it. Because it challenged them. Because it wasn't their cup of kink.

I learned that at 17.
I strive to remember that lesson as both a writer and an editor.

But it is not easy.



Jo said...

That's such a horrible story.

Semi colons have their place, though I don't like them very much either. Still, time and place.

As for fragments... time and place, too!

Miz Angell said...

Professors are dicks. Plain and simple.

I'm addicted to fragments however. Much to my editors dismay.