Missing in action again, wasn’t I? I get lost in the work of writing and sometimes ignore the fact that I’m working on more than one publication. I guess that’s a backhanded way of letting you know that I’ve been nose-to-the-grindstone on my new book, which is a sequel to “Ora’s Quest.” Working title: “Return to Dynora.” It’s out with readers at the moment—those valiant friends and associates who help me put the polish on the draft. Let me say a word about all of that.
I am a professional writer/editor/proofreader. I make money doing those things for strangers; but I don’t let them remain strangers. I observe them. I ask questions. As I come to know them better, I am able to use my insights about them to more fully address the work they need done. Sometimes these people become friends, but the parameters of those relationships are set and maintained; this for-profit work.
It’s wonderful to be able to make money doing what I love. In that setting, I find it quite insulting for someone to expect me to use my skills for free. In fact, there are many jobs that come up on the Internet that are extremely offensive to me because they want to pay less than minimum wage for a skill that we professional writers/editors/proofreaders have spent our lifetimes perfecting. I discourage anyone from taking such jobs. If those so-called employers can get people to accept their ridiculous offers, they will continue to exploit us. We have to stand together on this.
(A slight aside: I don’t edit theses or class-required papers, either—proof for typos, maybe, but not edit. I view that as cheating. I am appalled at the lack of writing skills in people who hold degrees, and having their papers edited by writers is one way they get away with it. Their lack of proficiency is a hindrance to them once they’re out of school. I don’t think we do them any favors by helping them buck the system.)
That said, I have to admit that there is another side to the coin. I also have a network of friends and writing associates for whom I will happily edit and proofread for free, and who do the same for me. On my end, these “coveted” spots are not easy to fill. They are held by people whose opinions I value highly, who know a good deal about the skills required, who have spot-on instincts about what works and what doesn’t, and who are trusted members of my inner circle who will tell me the truth.
They are not all writers/editors. My husband happens to be one of the highest on my list. He is a computer engineer and a woodworking artist, but it turns out he is one of the best editors I’ve ever met. Why? Because he’s wrapped up in the details of everything he does, from use of language (English or computer code) to seeing the detail and perspective of a scene (in wood, on the computer, or on the page). He also has a mind like a compass. We can go to a place we’ve never been to—or one we haven’t visited for years—and he can find his way to just about anywhere by instinct. I had him long before we had GPS on our phones, which is the only explanation for my not being permanently lost in the woods somewhere long ago. Consequently, he can find typos, contradictions in direction, words that don’t fit the time period, and on and on. I always knew he was a treasure; now I have one more reason to keep him!
Some of my readers are just that—avid readers who know what they like and don’t like in a book, and whom I can trust to give me their honest opinions. Some are teachers, which gives them another layer of skill. They also have to be friends—people whose personalities I know, so that when they give me critiques, I have a pretty good idea what is driving their comments. That makes a big difference in how I receive the comments—not as in taking offense or not, but as in “how can I use this to clarify, drive the story, etc.?” And because we know each other well, they know what I am trying to accomplish. They are not going to pat me on the head and tell me how nice it is that I wrote a whole book. They are going to give me their concerns straight and help me to become a better writer.
For those of them who are writers, I do the same kind of critique for them. It’s a wonderful reciprocal exercise that not only helps the writer of a particular manuscript to shine it up, but the discussion surrounding comments helps both writers to hone their skills. It’s like attending on-going workshops; amazing information to be gained and techniques to be perfected. In this business it’s hard enough to make a buck. It only makes sense that we would ensure some degree of profitability by using this rich resource rather than paying money to strangers whose opinions may or may not be valid. Not to mention that the quality of this type of opinion far outweighs anything we could get from strangers.
I almost did that once. I was in what I felt was a bit of a slump, and someone I knew only online offered—someone who projected himself to be a very accomplished writer and coach. I sent him the first draft of a couple of chapters for free evaluation, thinking that perhaps further input from this person would be worth the money he was asking—like taking a master’s class.
While I was waiting for his response, I did some checking and found some excerpts of his work. It turned out that if I were the one editing, I would have “bled” all over his work from page one! He had fallen into the cliché trap over and over again, breaking rules that even the newest newbie knows spell “death” to a novel. He seemed to think that he was gritty and edgy, but he wasn’t, at all. The chapters I read were mediocre at best. It was sad.
Needless to say, the free evaluation I got back was worth just about as much as I paid for it (but not quite). My style was way beyond was he was trying to do, and he didn’t have a clue about that. He wanted to stick me into his mold and erase all traces of me, even saying that he “would not allow me” to call myself “Debbi” instead of “Debra.” (Not at all what I would do if I were editing. The idea is to preserve the writer’s voice and offer suggestions as to how it can be clearer.) So much for “stranger” evaluations.
So, to all of those who read for me, you have my undying thanks. To those for whom I read, thank you for allowing me to participate in your process and thereby improve my own skills as well as helping you. True peer review is one of the richest blessings of pursuing this craft.