. . . teach, goes the old saw. It isn’t that I can’t write, because obviously I am the Next Great Novelist. So my ability to write is clearly a given. I have but to complete the First Novel and the rest of the world will see what I already know. They will demonstrate this by purchasing hundreds of thousands of copies and making me wealthy beyond my wildest dreams. So yeah, I can write.
But, setting aside my modesty, can I write well? And, perhaps more importantly, am I in a position where I can criticize the work of others? Thus, the title. As in: “Those who can, write. Those who cannot, become editors.”
I have volunteered to edit Chainsaw’s novel. I’ve known Chainsaw for about twenty years, although there was a big blank space in between when I first met him and when we became reacquainted. Chainsaw is a brillant man. He’s insightful and he’s tactful, so – paraphrasing the saying – he can tell me the First Novel is crap in such a way that I look forward to revising it. He’s also a fellow writer. And here is where I hit a snag.
Chainsaw has published a novel (two, I think). By “published” I mean he has uploaded it to Amazon, filled out some forms, and agreed to some agreements. By “published” I do not mean that he has had the novel professionally edited, nor critiqued by beta readers, nor done a great deal of marketing. So, I do feel a distinct twinge of jealousy that he has finished a book and “published” it, but I’m sad because I think he could do better.
It’s hard for me to describe Chainsaw’s novel. I love the man dearly and, like I said, he is brilliant. That’s why it’s just so painful to read his novel because . . . let’s just say it needs a *LOT* of work.
When I write, I tend to edit as I go. I’m a pretty good writer and my first drafts usually come out pretty nicely polished. That’s just me. I use the backspace key a lot; I read over my paragraphs and change words here and there. That’s how I do it.
What I envision Chainsaw doing is sitting at his keyboard, turning off all the lights, putting on some blaring heavy metal (I have no idea what sort of music he prefers, but heavy metal seems to fit his writing), and just pounding madly at the keys without regard to punctuation, spelling, or grammar. He just spews forth onto the page, flinging his words down as fast as they come squirting out of his brain. I know this is how he writes because he told me so. I can certainly acknowledge this as a viable form of creativity. After he gets the ideas out of his head and onto his screen, then he goes back and edits himself.
He admits to seven or eight editing trips through his latest book, but . . . if this is how it looks after seven or eight times through . . . it must have been one hell of a mess to begin with.
If you think at this point that Chainsaw’s writing is bad, you’d be correct, but only in so far as the mechanics of his writing. His writing style, to be fair and honest, is very good. I pick up his story and I can’t stop reading until I get to the end. It’s not a literary classic, by any means, but his storytelling style is compelling and captivating. It’s just that all 200 pages of his novel are chock full of capitalization errors, disagreements in tense, faulty pronoun references, dialog without enough tags so you can’t figure out who’s talking, and on and on.
So, because Chainsaw is my Bro, I said “I will edit your book for you.” Yeesh. I thought I could go through it in a couple days and clean up the frayed ends. It’s been a couple of weeks now and I’ve been working hard at it and I’m about two-thirds of the way. I’ve never done this sort of thing before, but you know what? I freakin’ LOVE it.
I love it because Chainsaw needs the help and he knows it. So I’m helping my fellow writer be a better writer and he appreciates that. It makes me feel good to help him out.
What I did not anticipate was that, while going through Chainsaw’s novel and pointing out sections that need work, I am becoming a better writer. I will go back to my own First Novel soon and it will be so much the better because of the effort I have undertaken on Chainsaw’s behalf. I didn’t realize how much it would help me too.