Bless the Editors!

Writing is mostly a private activity—it’s definitely not a team sport.  My best writing takes me to the world of the characters and becomes immersive.  When that is working, I write at a rapid pace and the results are good.  When I’m distracted or the real world is demanding my attention for one thing or another, it is difficult to write; and if I do write, it’s usually not good.  So left alone, undisturbed by the outside world; I’m an okay author.  If the other stuff is interfering, I’m not an okay author.  I’m mostly a grump.

I emphasize this to make a point, writing is not only a private activity it is also very selfish.  My guess would be that some of the best authors were some of the worst people—they cared about themselves and their books; not much else.  Ernest Hemingway had a reputation for drinking, direct prose, many wives, and a foul mouth—he was quoted on more than one occasion stating he was a man’s man; and he lived his life to please himself.  As a person he was considered cold, aloof, but he also had great friends; which seems like an odd contradiction.

From a Philip Young article, “Hemingway’s prose style was probably the most widely imitated of any in the 20th century. He wished to strip his own use of language of inessentials, ridding it of all traces of verbosity, embellishment, and sentimentality. In striving to be as objective and honest as possible, Hemingway hit upon the device of describing a series of actions by using short, simple sentences from which all comment or emotional rhetoric has been eliminated.”

Someone once said I wrote like Hemingway; I took it as a compliment, until he explained further that I wrote simple sentences.  Still not sure if he was trying to insult me or if it was praise.  I decided it didn’t matter.  The famous intellectual Popeye said it best “I Yam What I Yam.”

As I have written more books, the total is ten or about 700,000 words; I realize that you cannot write any differently than the way you write.  All of those words have to be mine.  I cannot write a Hemingway novel any more than I can write a Tolstoy or Christi novel.  For good or bad, it is mine. 

You may be wondering “how about those editors, don’t they change your words?”; yep, they do.  So I lied, the books are not just my words they are the words of several people who help me—and I don’t like it.  Left to my own devices I wouldn’t have an editor.  Stupid, but that is what I would do. 

Would my books be better without an editor?  Absolutely not.  The only reason I would forgo editing is my selfishness.  But even one of the most selfish great writers, Hemingway, had an editor.  Supposedly it was the same person for many years and Hemingway was very dependent on his work.  Hemingway might have been selfish, but he was not stupid.  Now the greatest novelist of all time, Leo Tolstoy, probably didn’t have an editor.  If he had that thousand-page War and Peace would have been whittled down to about four-hundred pages at most.  It would have been just War.

I have just gone through the process of making changes to the Muckraker Trilogy.  This involved new covers along with some re-writing and new editing.  I would much prefer producing new manuscripts without any old baggage to tidy up; but the process of review has improved these three novels.  These books written with Stanley Nelson as a co-author have not had the success of my other books.  Could be the story, location, time or characters don’t fit well with my other series; but this is a very good story.  I know that’s not exactly an unbiased opinion.  You should try at least one.  You will discover Tommy Jacks and a wonderful odd-ball group of support characters.  It’s a murder mystery but much more.

My best-selling book, all-time, is Dog Gone Lies.  It’s the first Pacheco & Chino novel and the second book I wrote.  It has consistently been the best-selling book—even last month it was the number 1 seller.  I have a sneaky suspicion that is due to the word Dog being in the title.  People love dogs and that title alone may be the reason it’s the top seller.  With this insider knowledge it was tempting to rename the Muckraker books to something that would spark sells.  Some ideas included; The Dog Murders, Dog Days Mystery, Dog and Cat Murders, Puppy Crimes, and my favorite, Dog Gone Good Murder Story. 

It was after that private brainstorming session on new titles that I realized I had been spending way too much time alone.  Of course my trusty editors would have never let me rename the book; Dog Gone Good Murder Story, even if it would have been a best-seller.  Bless those editors.

Thanks for being a reader!

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tedcliftonbooks

Ted Clifton, award winning author, is currently writing in three mystery series—Pacheco & Chino Mystery series, the Muckraker Mystery series and the Vincent Malone series. Clifton’s focus is on strong character development with unusual backdrops. His books take place in Southwest settings with some of his stories happening in the 1960s, 1980s and current times. The settings are places Clifton has lived and knows well, giving great authenticity to his narratives. Clifton has received the IBPA Benjamin Franklin award and the CIPA EVVY award--twice. Today Clifton and his wife reside in Denver, Colorado, with frequent visits to one of their favorite destinations, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

One thought on “Bless the Editors!”

  1. The editor represents the reader. That’s what makes editors the necessary evil of writing. The truth is that no matter the technique(s) any writer uses, self-editing is at best an incomplete and risky strategy.
    Of course, that seems counter-intuitive. A writer self-edits even while writing, and most put their works through many cycles of revision.
    But the essential matter is that of having someone else read the work before it is published, because every writer understands how important that can be, and suspects how pivotal that can be. I offer myself as an example. I cannot count the times an editor has snatched my work away from the threshold of stern embarrassment.
    A writer, as Ted tells us above, lives within the work, in a realm of familiarity that the reader will never completely experience, although the intent of writing is at least to introduce them to that realm. That familiarity is both necessary and fraught with risk for the writer and the reader—without an editor, there is no one to take the title on “test drive,” as it were, to find and work out the kinks and bumps, and close the holes in the story. And there will be kinks and bumps and holes; even the most successful writers are prone to them.
    And there’s this: Many writers despair of ever having anyone read their works, at all, before submitting for publication, whether to a publisher, an agent or whoever. Rare is the friend or family member who will, let alone can, read a writer’s work with a helpfully critical eye.
    Which brings us back to the initial point: the editor is, or should be, representative of the reader. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. alluded to this in his eight rules for short fiction listed in his collection Bagombo Snuff Box. “Write to please just one person,” he said therein. That one person is the reader, who the editor stands in place of—or again, should.

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