Friday, October 4, 2019

Learning From Editing

My last post dealt with the joys of learning from our mistakes (or at least the joy I get from them). We are walking, talking, error machines who can't help but make all kinds of mistakes. Yet, as we improve, we still benefit from recognizing our imperfections, and how we can still be a little better. Our writing will get better, and yet unless it is perfect, we will forever add to its style and beauty through learning from our mistakes.

Now we are going to discuss something far more educational than our mistakes - other people's mistakes. It may sound a little cruel to enjoy other people's mistakes, but hear me out. I offer that there is a lot to gain from what other people do, and it's not just learning from their errors; it's learning from their process.

Author Barbara Gregorich, whose Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel is a must-read for aspiring writers, said that editing the writing of other people benefited her more than editing her own work ever did. The big gain was that when we read our own work, we are just going over the same path, mowing the same lawn over and over. However, when we explore someone else's work, it isn't just sifting through a bunch of words we typed up. We are on a different path, mowing a different lawn, learning an entirely new terrain and all its details.

When I read a book, I enjoy it in the same way anyone else would. However, the writer in me is thinking about techniques, style, and how a particular turn of a phrase worked so well. Sometimes I will go through a short story then ask myself why a particular character stuck to me even though it was just a thousand words long? I will read it again, picking it apart for some technique that author used. Did they describe their characters with adjectives or with actions? Did the dialogue get to the point? Were the descriptions interactive, so the character became a part of everything around them? At this point, I am no longer reading. I am analyzing, dissecting. My inner writer has taken the wheel, and wants to become better by solving this riddle.

The same thing happens when we edit other people's writing, but even more so. Now the writer in us isn't wondering how a particular style worked, but asking ourselves if it worked. It's no longer an analytical process, it's a critical process. Does this character stick with me? Do those descriptions work? Are those linguistic devices paying off or do they bore me? And, of course, if they don't work, can they be salvaged? With our own works, we never get to explore these issues in the editing process. With the writing of others, it is our job to do a forensic overhaul on everything. In doing this, we learn.

Needless to say, I get a few people every week who inform me that I had a spelling error or grammatical slip-up in a past post (my editor is far from perfect). When I get these messages, I go in, correct the copy, and nobody is the wiser. However, I make a little mental note that those people are reading my work as more than just a consumer of words, but also a critical eye. Are they analyzing how I turn a phrase or lay out the structure? I don't know. However, they are looking closely. They are reading at a deeper level.

Hopefully, this means they are becoming a better writer in the process.

No comments:

Post a Comment