Revision can be tricky. A lot of people treat language as if it were an exact science, but the truth is opinions abound. For every person who thinks reiterate is a perfectly good word, another will tell you it’s an abomination. Should you use the Oxford comma? That depends on the style manual you consult. Some people repeat the rules they heard in an English class long ago without understanding their rationale. Writers can become grammar police, criticizing everyone who dares flout the right way to write.
I remember the first time I walked into the offices of the American Journal of Criminal Law as a second year law student. I had been chosen based on a writing sample I submitted, and I was excited to read, write, and learn more. I heard one of the manuscript editors speaking with derision about the writing samples. “Some people think that there can be the subject of a sentence.” I tensed up, trying to remember if I had done that. Despite getting good grades in high school and college writing classes (this is the measure of good writing, right?), I felt nervous.
Fortunately for me, the editor-in-chief was kind and helped me learn the way things worked and shared some helpful resources. I learned the difference between the principles (communicate your point clearly and precisely) and rules (write short sentences). I also discovered the difference between editors who wanted to produce a quality journal and help people write better and those who liked being right and making others wrong.
When I became editor in chief, I followed the model set by my predecessor. I learned the reasons for the rules so that I knew when to apply them and when I could throw caution to the wind. I shared what I’d learned with the younger members so they weren’t stumbling around in the dark. No matter how we try to detach from our writing, the words on the page are still are intellectual children. Another writer’s work should be treated with care and respect while we point out where the work could be made stronger. And this is the approach that I bring to the new Writership Podcast, where Alyssa and I will help indie authors discover the treasures within their manuscripts (and become better writers ourselves in the bargain).
As we mentioned last week, we’re recording the first episodes of the podcast now, and we’d love to have your submission. If you have a fiction manuscript (published or not) and you’d like compassionate and honest feedback about what’s working and what’s not, please send us your sample.