Blogging – antidote to writers’ heartbreak

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“Writers don’t go to hell”, said Anthony Howard, an English writer, “they have such hell on earth with their publishers, that when they die, they go straight to heaven.”

As a mere journalist at the time who didn’t dare call myself a writer, I shuddered at what abysses of despair that remark revealed, and  thanked my lucky stars that my fate would never be to agonise over a publisher.

Times change, and I’ve discovered what he meant… the anguish of  clumsy editors who think they understand the English language better than you do, seems to be the fate of too many writers. I remember my husband writing his umpteenth book, and on receiving the proofs, finding his manuscript had been improved by a feminist editor who’d replaced words like ‘ mankind’ with ‘personkind’, and’ brotherhood’ with ‘personhood.’

I, on the other hand, was once gifted with an editor who had just started at the publishing house, and bright- eyed and bushy-tailed, wanted to prove her worth to her new employers. After she’d completely re-written my first chapter, I suggested she might as well write the rest of the book, and they could dispense with me. They found another editor!

When asked to edit a book or an article, I use the lightest of pencils, knowing well the lacerated feelings of an author whose copy has been ‘improved’, the rhythm of sentences destroyed, words replaced, or others inserted.  And I am living proof that editors often don’t have any understanding of the book they’re working on.

I was once asked to edit a gold- plated leather- bound copy of The World Book of Rugby. My husband swears he actually saw my jaw drop when an emissary from the publisher called in and asked me to take the job on, as their previous editor had just crashed out (probably with boredom).

Conscious of the angst of all writers whose precious words are deemed  unsuitable by an insensitive know-all who has probably never written a book, I  only really checked the spellings of names and teams, grammar and punctuation – not a strong point with sports writers – or me either -and tried to master rugby terms like loosies, flankers, dropped goals and the like – which are different in the two hemispheres..

My finest hour was when I was groaning over the teams for South Africa and Australia at an important test match, and the computer that is our mind clicked into place. There were two players, Jason Small and James Little, and when I looked at the teams, something told me their names had been transposed. They were both playing in the same positions but on the wrong sides. Looking up the records I was right – a huge blunder but an easy mistake.

And that’s what proof-readers and editors are for, to my mind. They are not there to re-write the copy. How people like Dylan Thomas and James Joyce got their eccentric words, constructions and sentences past the eyes of people who think they can write better prose than the writer submitting his precious baby to them I don’t know. So there are obviously some wonderful publishers too… but it’s getting to them that’s the challenge…

So often writers wrestle with language (especially the English language), puzzle over plot and construction, assemble their research and marshal their facts, and then day after day, or night after night, write and re-write and eliminate and polish and check and then re-write and re-think, and finally offer up the fruit of this silent, dedicated labour and joy to someone who doesn’t seem to give a damn for their exquisite prose and potential masterpiece!

And then there are the reviewers and critics. When a craftsman makes a beautiful chest, people don’t look at it and say: ‘did you think of using the grain a different way?’… or: ‘ were you conscious that that leg isn’t quite straight?’  They don’t say to a painter: ‘did you really feel that composition was quite satisfying? … ‘had you really thought through that colour palette?’ or: ‘I just feel that brush-stroke there is a bit clumsy’.

A composer can write his song or his symphony without someone suggesting it would sound better in B minor instead of C minor, or that that crescendo seemed a little over the top in the context of the slow movement.  But it seems as though writing is fair game for everyone who thinks they’ve got a degree in English – or not.

The only other artists who have to endure the pain of their sensitive souls being bruised like ours, are actors and singers. And my heart bleeds for them when pundits pull their performance apart and mention that the soprano cracked on a high D, or the bass is over the hill and past his best.

And this is where blogging is saving the souls of frustrated writers. We can write and experiment and develop our style and stretch our talents without anyone cutting us down to size. Other bloggers are supportive, understanding, and discriminating, but not judgemental.

So writers who blog may now begin to savour what heaven is – writing because you have no choice but to write – and writing knowing that the fear of those precious words being mangled and misunderstood, improved or deleted, is no longer our fate. Blogging allows us to climb out of the pits of despair, rejection and criticism into the sunshine of writing for the joy of it. The gods are not crazy after all.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

Chicken mousse is a lovely summer dish and it doesn’t need gelatine, which I never use. Just melt two oz of butter in a basin over a pan of boiling water. Add 3oz of breadcrumbs, half a pint of cream, salt and a good punch of nutmeg. Stir for about five minutes until it thickens. Add three eggs and three table spoons of dry sherry, beat them together and then stir in eight oz of chopped chicken. Pour the mixture into a buttered soufflé dish or similar, cover with foil and bake in a moderate oven until firm – about half an hour. When cool, serve with a creamy mayonnaise with a chopped avocado in it. Delicious.

 

Food for thought

… Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road and… life itself is a journey to be walked on foot…              Bruce Chatwin  1940- 1989.  From his Book ‘What am I doing here”.

Life is a bridge. Cross over it, but build no house upon it.        Indian proverb

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64 Comments

Filed under books, cookery/recipes, great days, life/style, literature, philosophy, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, writing

64 responses to “Blogging – antidote to writers’ heartbreak

  1. When will it end? The abuse of writers that is. Is there no hope?

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  2. My crystal ball remains opaque when consulted on this question !!!

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  3. Sadly, people DO comment judgementally upon the work of other artists. It is sometimes the self appointed critics who are the harshest. I do agree the blogosphere is generally very supportive, however, and a wonderful outlet for many of us. Very thought provoking post, thank you.

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  4. You bring up some good points. As a writer, it bugs me when an editor going over my writing marks something as being wrong when that editor doesn’t bother to check that it actually IS wrong. I do careful research before I write to prevent mistakes from happening.

    As an editor, I double-check anything that seems wrong before I mark it as wrong. It is easy to make accidentally mistakes (such as accidentally transposing a couple of letters or numbers when you’re a writer.) My editing policy is to keep the author’s material as close as possible to the original, unless the piece needs some rewriting for clarity, punctuation or grammar. (eliminating run-on sentences, transforming phrases into actual sentences, etc.)

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  5. I didn’t realise that editors had such a free hand to completely change a manuscript. I hope your husband was able to change the words back!

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  6. So true about a craftsman working with wood – a great analogy. I have wondered if us Blogger s should offer up criticism but then I think how bruised I would feel!

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  7. I should have added, even though other artists may be confronted by judgement, it is certainly not as difficult as that of a writer whose work may actually be changed. I would think that could be devastating.

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  8. Most of my “writing” career involved business writing which is very dry indeed. Blogging has been a blessing to allow my sense of humor a place to live. I was asked to edit a book of essays for a friend. It was the hardest thing I ever did. Some of the essays made no sense to me (but that didn’t mean it was wrong). I ended up making comments where I thought she needed to rethink it but mostly made grammar corrections or suggested sentence structure for clarity. I swore I would never do that again!

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  9. As a writer of a literary blog, I totally relate to the points you make in this post. It does seem that others seem to criticize the works of writers, and writers, in turn, are often hard on themselves for it. We need to have faith in our writing as well as faith in ourselves. Great and inspiring post.

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  10. Dearest Valerie,

    Thank you for sharing Mr. Chatwin’s description of life. (Or perhaps it could be called a prescription for life?)

    Your writing probably confounds editors because they are so rarely confronted with manuscripts that require that they do nothing, which is an art in and of itself. As for your writing, well, what a pleasure it is for me to follow along after you’ve blazed the trail. I effortlessly walk the carefully chosen, beautiful and seemingly effortless path, take in the sights and sounds and gather up the pearls of wisdom sown by your effort and passion. My pockets are always overflowing.

    The Raft Builders by Lord Dunsany is ever in my mind as I write of late.

    You build the most excellent rafts, Valerie.

    Mahalo.

    Kia Ora,

    Doug

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    • Dear Doug, You are far too generous as usual. So glad you enjoyed Chatwin…have been re-reading him….
      I rushed to Google The Raft Builders and up came your wonderful blog.I can see why it is on your mind… I can’t help but agree with you and him and Shelley ( that’s always been one of my favourite poems)
      The Dunsany book looks so intriguing… is the rest of it as good as The Raft Builders, and so do I need to find it ??

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  11. I live on both sides of that editing problem. On the one hand I don’t like my deathless prose mucked about with. Quite often, though, after getting over my tantrum, I find that the proposed change is an improvement. On the other hand, when editing a book, there is much deathless prose I find deadly instead, and seek to change it. However, thanks to the wonderful review mode in Word, I can do it by suggestion rather than imposing. I do that even with the seemingly obvious spelling and punctuation errors or contradictions – one can tell things are wrong, but not always what would make them the sort of right the writer wanted!

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    • You’re so right… and of course some writers are lucky to have an editor who actually improves their book and makes it publishable… though it beats me why publishers would bother with something that needed that much work to make it saleable when there’s plenty of good unpublished stuff around !!!

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  12. You made me laugh out loud, having never finished a book let alone gifted it to an editor, I still had to laugh.. and agreed about the blogging. many people say to me.. you should write a book.. I AM I think, and you are reading it.. a good many of you too, what more do i need to do .. I think i am a lazy person about the book writing. Living the stories i write is so much more fun that writing them!!.. Do take care my darling, have a cup of tea for me.. Linda and I were talking about you yesterday.. were your ears burning?.. c

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    • Dearest Celi – you’re right – why would we want to read a book when we can enjoy your daily posts and get our fix of love and farm and fun every day. And yes, I do get that living your stories is more fun for you than writing them, but the rest of us live it vicariously, and are so grateful for it … So it was you and Linda, was it? I wonder what you found to talk about ! I shall have a cup of tea for you, right now – and just want to let you know that the champagne is on ice for that great day !!!! Much love XX

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  13. Like Promenade Claire I would be so bruised…on the other hand how strong and sturdy you are. You have been shaped and smoothed by some pretty serious fire,still you are here to encourage all of us forward.

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

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  14. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    WORDS TO THE WISE, I THINK….HOW THE OTHER “SIDE” THINKS!

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  15. Nice post, and it’s so true!

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  16. Amy

    Blogging is a different world, I guess most people just want to express and share their experiences in various styles, and bloggers come and go… Reading your posts is like reading a book, and I have read your two books.

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  17. Luanne

    Valerie, I hear you on the editor angst. Ugh. But you are so right about blogging. It’s very freeing and refreshing. That’s why I am so often blogging when I should be working on The Book. Sigh.

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  18. Your thoughts on writing and editing are indicative of a profound longing of humanity to be the one who is “most right” or “best” or “chosen.” When I first went to school, I remember clearly that students (including me) would be so excited when the teacher picked their raised hands. Perhaps it is our need to carve out an identity, which is an admirable trait, IF we don’t reduce other’s identity in the process. To be an editor of worth, requires compassion, generosity, and the willingness to be in second place to the author. When we produce work, we want to be cherished for who are; we have not asked to be remade, revised, reworked, or go through the iteration hoops. And being in second IS a leadership position. Check out this 3 minute TED video by Derek Sivers (I hope this works – if not, I’ve included a link:

    Valerie – this was another one of your brilliant, mind expanding posts. I laughed out loud when I read that you caught the Jason Small and James Little switch around!

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  19. I enjoyed reading this post. The confusion between Small and Little was hilarious, I must say. Yes, I think blogging eliminates middlemen and that’s a huge plus although autocorrect features often mess with words too. However, I wonder when the volume of writing becomes big, such as in a book, whether eliminating editors and proofreaders might be possible. In blogs self editing is a real reward.

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    • So good to hear from you – so pleased you got the joke about Small and Little !!!
      Yes, I actually don’t use any of the spell checks, so often there’s confusion between English and American, and also between what i want to say, and what ‘they’ think I should say !!!
      I agree with what you say about proof-reading a book… we just need proof readers not meddlers !!!!

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  20. I’ve never experienced an editor that caused me any particular pain or annoyance, but I fear that once I said too much to a friend who asked me to read her work. I agree with your characterization of blogging. I had no idea what I was doing when I started my blog five months ago, but I soon realized how much fun it is. I write something, click publish, and there it is. Fun!

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  21. Dear Valerie,

    I’m fortunate in that my first experience working with an editor was a good one on my short story anthology. The lady would suggest changes (most of them grammatical) and if I didn’t agree that was fine with her. “It’s your book,” she’d say. “My job is to help you make it the best it can be.” But we did reach one impasse with a particular story. She didn’t feel my ending was strong enough but never told me how to rewrite it. We went back and forth over the course of three gallies. Finally I wrote almost a page of defense to send her. Then I reread my ending and her comments. “Dammit, she’s right,” I exclaimed to empty air. I crossed out my comments (which I sent her for fun) and rewrote the ending in less than 15 minutes, In the end we were both ecstatic with the results.

    Recently my agent for my first novel sent a copy of a rejection letter from an editor. The woman loved the history and the writing style in my book but thought my heroine should choose another “stronger” character to marry which would’ve negated my reason for writing the book in the first place. I asked my agent if she thought I should rewrite to which she said she just wanted me to see that I was on the right track and not to change a thing.

    At any rate, I’ve rambled enough. Your beautiful, insightful blogs always bring things to my surface. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I find myself checking back here often so I don’t miss the latest installment.

    Shalom and Kia Ora,

    Rochelle

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    • So good to hear from you Rochelle. Those of us who’ve had other experiences can only envy you yours – how wonderful to have such understanding and competent people to work with… that’s the other side of the coin…Thank you so much for your kind words, so glad you enjoyed the blog, love Valerie

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  22. talesfromthelou

    Lovely Valerie. Your words are always inspirational and precious to me. Love your recipes too. Next time, I think I should just go for dinner at your place and read your post from there!

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  23. I haven’t had the experience of an editor appraising / changing my work, but I do agree that so many people have an opinion on writing without, I think, appreciating the effort that goes into it. I guess it’s that old chestnut of everyone supposedly having a book in them, so thinking they can do better. Blogging is definitely liberating in terms of having control of what you write and when you publish it.

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  24. Bravo, Valerie. Before blogging, I’ve often whined about a writer’s “masterpiece” needing to be accepted by ONE person in each publishing house – whereas with other art forms, the work can immediately be presented to the masses. Yes, I know…my musician friends just laugh.

    In the days of yore, when writers were published and their books were printed, what feedback did they receive besides assessments by critics? While bloggers are very supportive of each other and don’t offer unsolicited critiques, it’s encouraging and helpful to realize we’re not alone in our trials and bumps.

    On the sensibility of writers, I enjoyed discovering this advice still being relevant today:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-leveen/how-lewis-carroll-can-imp_b_4590584.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003

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  25. Juliet

    I’ve been so lucky to have had wonderful editors, who have helped me produce a much better book, not by interfering or imposing, but simply by making some excellent suggestions. As for blogging, you are so right about the freedom that comes with this medium.

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  26. What a fabulous and funny post, Valerie. Thank heavens no one is editing what you have to say here!

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  27. Thank you for your remarks about blogging. Writing can take so many forms. Blogging is writers’ diary. The only difference is that bloggers allow other people to read their words, enter their world and feel part of our universal human condition. Best to you and your bloggers/readers.

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  28. So good to hear from you, and loved your comments… yes, I feel perhaps that blogging has become the spiritual log-book of the human race, a resource that we can all tap into as a map or a guide, along our Way…and find too, companionship and understanding from other bloggers…thank you so much for your comments..

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  29. I hear you Valerie, and actually I believe those editors who tend to re-write a whole chapter or article – as well as some unmerciful critics – are really shadow-artists (a term I borrowed from Julia Cameron).

    When you don’t live your own creativity it may seem all to easy to “enhance” the work of others instead of daring the step and creating something on your own. That would be the life of a shadow-artist.

    When you do live your own creativity, on the other hand, it seems easier to accept the (maybe different) flow of another artist and thereby to limit the editing to checking on spelling and names.

    I do believe though, shadow artists are to be found in every art genre. At least according to my own observations. And I am feeling sad for them as much as I feel compassion for the practising artists who encounter their judgement as I imagine a life in the shadows may not really be fulfilling.

    Much love,
    Steffi

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  30. It’s been a while since I’ve been here. My deepest apologies.

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  31. І all the time used to study piece of writing in news рqpers but now as I am a user of іnternet
    so from now I amm using neet for content, thanks to web.

    Like

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