Well That’s Just Like, Your Opinion, Man: Subjectivity in Editing

So those last 30 pages? The ones that I blew through at twice my normal speed and found very few problems with? Have turned out to be absolutely FULL of issues. I don’t want to call them errors, because the problems I have found to correct on my second pass through that section were not wrong (in the sense of correctness) so much as simply…not right (aesthetically). And I haven’t even gotten all the way through them – I have done maybe 10 of the pages. Miles to go, yet; this edit might be 9 hours, after all, because the going has been much slower than my average this time around. (*blinks* What?! …. EXACTLY)

These disparate experiences of analyzing the same text have given me a heuristic knowledge of the common writer wisdom that “editing is subjective.”

Yes. Not all editing, mind. Some editing is rules-based and incontrovertible: spelling errors, dangling modifiers, unclear/absentee/improper antecedents, certain punctuation constructions, etc., are not going to change from one editor to another unless one of them is ignorant of the accepted rules of English. But the kind of editing that writers think of–the kind that points out, not errors, but places your text could be clearer, or more concise, or more precise, or less cliche? That kind of editing is absolutely subjective.

I don’t think y0u can get proof that is more empirical than the same person going over the same text on two different occasions, both of which occurred when the person was intimately knowledgeable of the text and thus could not be accused of finding problems only with greater familiarity, and getting two different results.

I think in the first case I was editing as a reader–did anything stick out at me as being wrong or bad or unclear or wordy? No? Then move along, nothing to see here. In the second case I have been reading as an editor and picking up the sorts of problems I found throughout the whole.

As a self-publishing writer, I think both hats are important, reader and editor. You have to be able to read your work as each–but at separate times.

Even if you hire someone to edit your words for you, you still need to be able to view your text as an editor, because there is no other way for you to evaluate what they are suggesting you change. No editor’s word should be gospel. Aesthetic editing is an art, not a science. It is the art of making you sound more like you than you can.




Filed under Writing

3 responses to “Well That’s Just Like, Your Opinion, Man: Subjectivity in Editing

  1. ABE

    I knew it! I picked up the reference right away (but then lost points for having to go check it out on Google). Love that movie.

    On editing: and you don’t even have the problem that you have changed in a major way, learned a whole bunch more about HOW to write, since you wrote the previously-acceptable draft.

    I’m practically having to use my previous text as suggestions from a younger me. I so thought I had a decent draft – but I think you have to tell yourself that or you can never finish anything.

    I wouldn’t worry about the 9 hours – you know it’s going to be so much better when you take advantage of those ‘opportunities.’

    Your brain is only handing you as much as you can deal with at a time.

    • You are right that I don’t have that particular problem – the one advantage to never being able to finish anything before the last couple years was not having drafts that started in one voice and ended in another. The closest I have is the necessity of rewriting the first third of a novel because the plot changed. Have not been able to make myself do that yet… I don’t envy you the task of performing it for entire manuscripts!

      RE the reference – to my point in the star trek rant: THAT is how you drop a reference 🙂

  2. ABE

    The thing is, the plot has NOT changed. I have learned to write better, to do all the little things with control, to handle characters and points of view and to layer threads in. But the story came as a whole, and is still there as a whole – from first to last scene.

    It’s just that each scene is ending up doing what it is plotted to do, better.

    I don’t mind that at all – it is kind of eerie, and things do get rearranged a bit, but my capacity to tell a story has increased. I might have gotten better more quickly, had I half a brain.

    I’m more apt to remind myself that Margaret Mitchell took 10 years to write GWTW – and there was nothing wrong with her brain.

    And that is definitely how you drop a reference. Subtly and with elegance.

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