Thursday, December 16, 2010

Topic: Editors and Editing

10-second review: Most helpful to the writer, according to Michael Crichton, is to describe the problem not the method of fixing it.

Quote: “I have learned something about working with editors, and that is to ask for their reactions to what they find wrong, and not for their suggestions for how to fix it. I always say, give me the symptoms, not the diagnosis or the treatment. I find it much more useful to hear ‘I got confused in this chapter’ or ‘I don’t know, I was bored here’ than to be told to cut that scene, change this character.”

Quote: “Even the best editors don’t know your book as well as you do, and their ideas for repair may not really answer their own objections.”

Quote: “So I try to satisfy his problems with the book, and not just do what he tells me to do.” Michael Crichton. September 1986.

Comment: I had a somewhat similar experience publishing my first professional article. When I took it to my wife to read it, she quickly showed signs of being bored with it. She stopped reading and read pages ahead and then, showing clear signs of fatigue, returned to her starting point. Finally, she handed it to me and said it was probably for people who were smarter than she was. I blew up. The article was for people like her, a first-grade teacher.  She, of course, was right. The article was returned unaccepted with brutal comments by peer reviewers. The editor said that with certain changes, she would reconsider it for publication.

I decided that I needed my wife’s help. I asked her to read it, but not to judge it—whether good or bad. If she said it was bad, my feelings would be hurt. If she said it was good, I still wouldn’t learn anything. I asked her simply to put question marks in the margins whenever an idea was not clear to her. This time she did it that way and returned it to me without comment. I studied the question marks and made changes that I thought would clarify the ideas I was trying to express.

I resubmitted the article and it was published as the lead article in the journal for which I wrote it. We now have a pact that she will make no judgments, positive or negative, but simply question whatever is not clear. I agree with Crichton. Tell me the symptom and I will make the changes. RayS.

Title: The Writer’s Digest Guide to Good Writing. Thomas Clark, ed., et al. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1994.

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