Preserving Your Voice

9 May

In an earlier post, I described how there is no such thing – in an objective sense – as ‘bad writing’. In other words, as long as you make a conscious choice to write a certain way for a specific reason, nobody can say it is wrong (although they may well say they don’t enjoy it!). The reason I wrote that article was the current cult of the ultra-short sentence shorn of adjectives and adverbs, which new writers are being told is the only ‘right’ way to write – despite the fact that such bland, staccato writing is utterly unsuitable to whole swathes of literature. (Such writing is, however, entirely suitable for action scenes.)

Unfortunately, even if you are not blindly following such advice and are confident in your writing style, there is an impediment to preserving your voice (unless you are self-publishing) – the editor. Now, I will hasten to add, this is not an attack on all editors, as there are many highly-skilled editors out there who know exactly what they are doing and will only suggest changes that are likely to improve your writing. (I will also add, based on one editors lament, that they sometimes have to cope with a similar problem when copy editors and proofreaders suddenly take it into their heads that they know best and step beyond the bounds of their position to suggest wholesale rewrites rather than just checking for typos!)

The problem, and it should come as no surprise given that somebody has to be propagating such notions, is that there are plenty of editors who are in thrall to the staccato sentence or have their own quirks.  Suddenly, despite having agonised over your writing as you put it on paper (or screen) and then edited and re-edited it to make sure it is just how it should be, you have someone suggesting that your deliberately laid-out manuscript and carefully chosen words  are flawed, sometimes for the most bizarre of reasons. Suddenly, you are attempting to balance being published with preserving your voice, rather like a politician being told to keep to the party line if he wishes to retain his seat.

Often, an editor’s demands are not too damaging to your manuscript (such as cutting longer sentences in half) or they make so many ‘suggestions’ that you can implement a number of essentially unimportant ones (perhaps even correcting genuine errors or making improvements) to satisfy their need to edit without compromising your writing. It’s when they effectively want to rewrite your piece into something entirely different that you have to decide whether to just walk away or not. (A good editor will give you a heads up before accepting your work that they want to make drastic changes – “I would like to accept it but…” or “I’m going to reject it but…” Bad editors accept your work then start making onerous demands.)

Perhaps the most irritating of bad editors are those who frame their opinion with “All/Most editors would agree…” Would they? Do most editors actually edit anything worthwhile? Do you not have any thoughts and opinions of your own? Perhaps not…

The most important thing to remember is that there is nothing objectively superior about being an editor. Editors make mistakes and have subjective tastes just like everyone else. One editor may look at your work and hate it, the next may love it. All you can do is produce the writing that you want to produce in the way that you wish to produce it and keep sending it out into the world until it finds a home in which it will be appreciated.

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