The 12 Days of Liz: Day Nine: The Words and Me

I know some of you don’t read the comments so you missed me mugging an Argh Person. Then the comments after my mugging post seemed to imply that you were leery of commenting on the scene in the PDF pages. Can’t IMAGINE why. So this is to clarify, and if you’ve read the comments, it’s repetitive, so sorry about that. Also, I very much want to emphasize THIS IS NOT DIRECTED AT ANY ONE PERSON. It’s my thoughts on something that’s very, very common in both the writing community and in publishing, and I have very strong feelings about it, but I’m not mad at anybody. Actually, I’m grateful to the person who wrote the original comment because I think this is a good discussion. Also I’m swamped today and if it wasn’t for this post, I’d have scanned in the second scene. One look at a marked up manuscript may be interesting, but two is just depressing as hell. Most important: nobody should feel bad or guilty or anything else about this post. It’s not about you. It’s about me. Which is the way it should be (g).

So first of all, you can say anything you want about anything I put up here. I may argue, but you’re not stepping over a line. If I put it up here, it’s fair game for comments. It’s nice if you can tell me why you don’t like something, if you can zero in on the problem and describe it, but even if all you say is, “I don’t think that works,” it tells me what to look at again.

However, don’t rewrite. Think of it as taking the paintbrush from the hand of a painter and fixing her painting for her, or spanking the child of somebody you see in a store to fix the kid’s tantrum for her. It’s tempting, but you just don’t do it. It’s the same thing with writing. A lot of writers are obsessive about words because the right word is crucial, the right rhythm in a phrase is crucial, the right break in a paragraph is crucial, and only that writer can tell how those choices should be made. Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug,” but what he didn’t add was that the only person who knows the right word is the original author.

If you have a critique partner who rewrites your stuff, tell her to knock it off now. If she wants to write a book, she can write her own. That’s what I told the editor who put seventeen adverbs into a book of mine once. I was so furious that when the senior editor at that publishing house e-mailed me and said, “We weren’t happy with what you said to X,” I said, “I’m not happy with what X did to my book and you’re not publishing it that way. Tell me how much I owe you because I’m buying it back.” I had a new editor within the hour. Do not let editors fuck with your work just because they think they know your story better than you do. (And no it wasn’t because I had a lot of power. It was my third book, nobody knew who I was, and I was still learning the business.)

That sanctity of words is also the reason I left my first publisher; the company rewrote their contracts to say that they could change anything in the books they bought. I said no. My editor had four proposals in front of her that she’d approved but that hadn’t gone to contract–the sequels to Manhunting, Getting Rid of Bradley, Anyone But You, and What the Lady Wants (Cake Love, can’t remember the title of the second one, Jane Errs, and Newton, the Rat with Women)–and I couldn’t sign them because they wouldn’t take that clause out. She was wonderful, she really fought for me, but when the legal department was adamant, she said, “Look, I can promise I’ll never change your story.” i don’t think she ever understood that stories are the easy part. You can give two writers the same story and they’ll come up with vastly different books. Shakespeare stole every story he ever wrote; he wasn’t great because of his stories, he was great because of his words, which is why “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” has lived for hundreds of years, while “I don’t care who your daddy is” probably wouldn’t have lasted the weekend.

I’m not Shakespeare. Most days I’m not even Jennifer Crusie as you can see by the marked up pages I posted earlier. It takes a helluva lot of rewriting to get to bad Crusie, let alone good Crusie. But the principle is the same: it’s the words, honey, and the way they go together. I should have said this a long time ago, it’s an important thing to reinforce because when the words are violated, the writer is injured, and too often we don’t fight for our books and just take the wounds. (Not me, I’m impervious, so NO GUILT ANYWHERE). I know two excellent, excellent writers whose editors rewrote their books to such an extent that they quit writing; their hearts were just broken by the books that were published. One of them finally came back and is working with an editor who respects her prose (which is excellent) and she’s back on track again. The other one, one of the most brilliant writers I’ve ever known, hasn’t written since and I don’t think she’s ever going to again. She hasn’t published for years and people still ask about her, she was that good. You can argue that she should have been tougher than that, but I’d argue that with a good editor who respected her writing, she wouldn’t have had to be tough, she could just have been an excellent writer who gave pleasure to everyone who read her work. This is one reason why I will write for Jennifer Enderlin until the day I die.

One of my best friends in the business has a mantra: Protect the work. I think too often we’re too uncertain about our work, and especially in the beginning when it seems like we’re powerless, just trying to learn, we let other people mess with our words. That’s not the same as letting other people comment on our stories, that’s critiquing. But if we let other people change our words, we’re letting them into the story, and they don’t belong there. More than that, we’re failing to protect the story. The only protection your story has from the outside world is you. You have a responsibility to it. Even if that means mugging the innocent.

I do want to reiterate, nobody injured me. Nothing bad happened except I think I hurt somebody’s feelings and she’s a good, good person, so I hate that. I’m doing fine here; this happens to me a lot and believe me, in this kind of situation, I’m never the one in pain (really sorry about that blog post thing, Alastair). But the “rewriting somebody’s story for her is helpful” idea is rife in both writing and publishing circles, and I felt the need to explain that it’s up to you to make clear to your critique partners and editors that your words are yours and yours alone so hands off. I usually rip off a limb and beat the rewriter about the head and shoulders with it, but a firm “no” will probably do the trick.

Having said that, feel free to have at anything I put up here. Although I think not accepting “glove department” shows a lack of imagination on your parts. Jeez.

74 thoughts on “The 12 Days of Liz: Day Nine: The Words and Me

  1. Pleading guilty, although I think I’ve moved away from that. But I’d get so excited discussing people’s stories, especially when they captured my imagination, that I’ve thrown in my lines, instead of describing what wasn’t working. It took a while to get my critiquing, and teaching, legs. I was always very aware of it as a teacher, but explaining why something doesn’t work takes practice. I think I got a little sloppy when I started critiquing though, because my art-brain wanted to play too. It’s a good lesson.

    0

    1. I know, it’s a natural thing to do. But think of it this way, when you put your writing into somebody else’s work, you’re saying, “I’m better at this than you are.” Telling somebody their writing is unclear (or whatever) is what the reader will do when she reads. Rewriting somebody else’s work is saying, “I’m a better writer than you are, even in your own book.” You want to critique as a reader, not a writer.

      0

  2. Thanks for this reminder. I’m thinking guilty thoughts of a past critique group. I shed the group because I couldn’t get their voices out of my head while *drafting,* for crying out loud.

    But in retrospect, I probably caused a great deal of grief to other writers in that group. It’s really difficult to describe why something doesn’t work; it’s “easier” to mark up a sentence with a pencil.You’re right, though; it’s also rude. So thank you for explaining this.

    0

    1. I really think the key is to remind yourself that when you critique, you’re a reader, not a writer.
      Of course, it’s not easy to turn off the writer. I rewrite movies in my head while I’m watching them.

      0

  3. I left a critique group over the rewriting thing. I could never admit why I felt so violated. What was wrong with me? Didn’t I want to be a better writer? Thin skinned, much? You’ve articulated what I couldn’t say or understand. Jenny, you are generous to share your process–especially before the draft is fully cooked. I’ve learned more practical writing skills here (and before on He Wrote, She Wrote) than anywhere on the web.

    To Naked Under My Clothes, I have trouble getting other people’s voices out of my head too. Maybe that’s part of the temptation to change another writer’s words into our own. Don’t be hard on yourself.

    0

    1. Overall, the critique group was a valuable experience, in part because I developed a greater confidence in my ability to revise my own work. The readers were also useful in the early stages, when *I* knew what I meant but had lost perspective on how a stranger might read the words.

      And once I figured out that I had somehow acquired *extra* voices in my head (Lord knows I have enough of my own, plus characters), I could thank those voices, take what worked, and set the rest aside.

      0

  4. I thought hating when people did this just made me a PITA. And I really do hate it. A friend critiqued my work and I know she was well-intentioned but she made those pages bleed red. Barely a sentence left untouched. I closed the document and nicely (because she really meant no harm) explained that following her advice would completely strip my voice. I like my voice. Think I’ll keep it.

    About the department vs. compartment, I was just trying to be helpful! LOL! After I hit “submit” I thought, “I’m going to feel really stupid if that’s a regional thing and didn’t need corrected.”

    That said, I did cringe when I read your response in the thread below. It was clearly a struck nerve. Hope the pooches’ shots went well.

    0

    1. It’s amazing how you can read something over and over and OVER and not catch it. Well, it’s amazing how I can. Yes, I will definitely change that.

      I can’t critique Lani’s work. I do not rewrite her, but I’m ruthless and tactless and it just screws up her process. One of the things living with somebody does is establish boundaries and that’s one of ours. The boundaries Krissie has established with me are not quite as strict but they’re still there: I can’t look at her stuff while she’s feeling vulnerable. We can brainstorm (and while we’re doing it, I regularly ask, “Is this okay? Am I screwing up your vision?”) but I can’t comment on the story itself, and and knowing that is healthy. OTOH, I want stringent criticism. I want people saying “This isn’t working” and “she’s unsympathetic” and “I don’t believe this.” I think it’s partly a function of ego–I think I’m the greatest writer who ever lived–and of desperation–I think I’m the most talentless hack who ever lived–and the two of those together make me anxious for tough feedback while my ego shields me from distress. But every writer is different, so you have to figure out your boundaries for yourself. And then keep them.

      0

      1. So, what you’re saying is that these types of relationships are like marriage: fragile, yet powerful. And, if you want them to be successful and long-lasting, they must be based on a deep respect for the other person and riddled with compromise.

        Totally.

        0

      2. I would kill to have someone ruthlessly and tactlessly edit my stuff. When someone is too nice, you always wonder what they didn’t tell you.

        0

    2. Honestly, it would have been cute if Peri had said it. Kids mix that stuff up all the time (especially with words like “compartment” that most kids don’t use. Especially when very few people keep gloves in said compartments).

      0

  5. Ok, so I’m totally NOT a writer (don’t even want to be one – I’m really just here, lurking, because I have a fan-crush on Jennie), but I can tell you that this is 110% true of the design world, as well.

    Seriously, I went to school for 3 hellish years and studied the history of art and architecture – everything from the Lascaux cave paintings to the buildings of Frank Gehry – have been designing homes for 10 years, and eat, sleep and breathe design, but YOU think you can walk into my office and scribble (with my fucking pen that you whipped out of my fucking hand, no less) all over the sketches I produced for you because YOU WATCHED A FEW EPISODES OF TRADING SPACES? For real?

    No. Just no.

    That’s my public service announcement for the day.

    0

      1. I had an illustration professor who would take my pen/pencil/brush, make me get up so she could sit in my seat, and “fix” my art. It made me want to cry every single time, but I didn’t have the backbone to stand up for myself and say “no.” Thank you so much for posting this!

        0

        1. The professor couldn’t start his own art … obviously no imagination and needed yours to get him started. What he did was inexcusable.

          0

        2. The first painting class I took where the teacher did that, I walked out on the spot. Never went back. I’m still amazed that it’s so common.

          0

    1. My first painting class the instructor explained her method (do a painting and have students copy it – keeping in mind it was her design and we needed to sign it “XXX after The Instructor”. Which I was okay with – copywrite is important. And I was okay with the technique or I wouldn’t have been in the class. However, as I am painting and making a few changes because I liked it that way, she came over, took my paint brush and said “oh, you should do that this way” and changed it back to her painting. I left at the break and never went back and could never figure out why I was so hostile about this. Especially since in later art classes I have had instructors paint on my painting (Artists are not verbal a lot of the time – they can do but not say) and decided after reading this that the difference is trying to show you a technique that the student does not know how to do or trying to control the process.

      Thanks this is a very interesting discussion.

      0

      1. YES. THIS. It’s one thing to show technique, which is fine, it’s another to deem yourself auto-correct for someone else’s work. When I’m critiquing someone’s writing, at most I might give an example of alternative words/phrasing if there’s weird/unclear vocab, but always with the caveat that the writer might have meant it that way and I missed it, in which case, it’s maybe still not on the page for the reader, or maybe it’s just me.

        0

  6. Cake Love???? Okay, I know it was just a proposal, and on the assumption you’re never going back there again and feel comfortable telling us, was Jessie (Kate’s best friend’s name was Jessie, wasn’t it?), was she going to end up with the brother?

    Getting back to Liz, there’s something written in the margin on the second page, I think, about Vince, but I can’t quite make out the last word. Can you tell me what it says, please?

    0

    1. Yes. I wasn’t terribly imaginative back then, so Jessie was going to end up with Will. It actually worked because she was so out-of-control and he was so focused and practical. But there was a fake engagement at Kate’s wedding, so the plot sucked.

      The note on the second page was to myself. It says “wouldn’t she have it out already?” meaning her license and insurance card. I’m going with no, but I think that every time I hit that part.

      0

  7. If she already had her license out, she’d have to put it down somewhere while she searched for the registration. As for Cake Love, you would have made it work.

    0

  8. It’s probably best that Cake Love didn’t see the light of day. Eventually, Jessie would have killed Will with a cake server.

    0

      1. Sounds good to me. Why don’t you keep that in mind until the Liz Series is done. (I must admit I prefer your real-life stories to fantasy fairy tales and witches.)

        0

  9. Wow. Well said.

    I missed whatever comments inspired this post–editing & working on my own book so short on time–but you’re right, this is a good topic.

    Reading is subjective enough, never mind writing. Think it was Stephen King’s book on writing where I first saw him advise writers not to show their work to anyone until it was done, even when tempted. Very wise. Creation is sacred but process is vulnerable. At least for me. Nobody sees my work until I’m ready. But then I welcome all feedback and take it seriously because I want to improve my craft. No rewrites, though, just feedback:)

    0

    1. In my first writing workshop, the teacher (I think it was Adrian Plass) said just that: don’t show your work to anybody until it’s finished. It’s like walking out the door in your underwear.

      0

      1. I’ve been lurking and soaking up all these great comments then you drop the bombshell that your first writing workshop was with Adrian Plass! Seriously ? That must’ve been amazing.

        0

  10. What do you think should the rules be for editing/critiquing technical writing, coming from the academic context? Is it a sin to revise text in an effort to make things clearer and more understandable, giving them the option to make the revisions or not? It this type of writing “art” in the same way you have been talking about art? Is all writing inviolable in the way you have expressed it? Or can we make distinctions?

    I first started out critiquing the way you suggested–e.g., this is awkward, make shorter (I once wrote: “I am losing the will to live . . .”). But lately, in the interests of time, I have been revising text, also including notes and comments, blacklining all of it to the original text so it is obvious to the writer, and making it clear it is for him/her to decide (and I apologize in advance, mentioning the time constraints). I also try to analogize this approach to having the in-person conversation I would like to have if I had the time, but I may be rationalizing. When others have done it for me, however, I didn’t get upset–it helped me to see how to fix it. Sometimes it is hard to get out of your own way when writing about obscure technical/academic stuff and that approach has helped me.

    Should I mention that I am talking about work written by graduate students (I am not grading them), some of whom do not write well. I am reviewing their work for both substance and form, with an eye toward making it available for other researchers to read (long story) and I would like to avoid them being embarrassed. Some of them are writing in a second language (not necessarily the same issue as the first).

    Your thoughts would be appreciated.

    0

    1. Technical writing is almost always collaborative (you’re working with a client) with very clear constraints. You have X number of words. You must explain this process. You must describe this product within legal parameters. It’s not creative in the sense that fiction is, because fiction is making up stuff. Good technical writing is presenting facts clearly and simply is as few words as possible.
      But when you’re teaching tech writing, it’s not helping the student when you rewrite, because what she needs to know is what’s lacking in her work–clarity, conciseness, specificity–and the theory behind how to fix it, the rules/theory/guidelines/whatever, because once she understands that, then she can write it herself. I have an MA in tech writing and I taught it to undergrads, and the thing about giving them examples is that they’ll nod and use your example and never understand why, even if you’ve explained as you gave them the example. They figure they don’t have to understand it because the answer is right there, you gave it to them. Or they’ll work back from the example. “This sentence is correct, so if I make all my sentences like this, they’ll be correct.” The thing about teaching any age, is that most students are looking for the right answer so they can move on. So don’t give them any answers, harass them until they understand the theory and can come up with their own answers.
      Yeah, my students LOVED me (g).

      0

      1. Thanks!

        I am in the role of client, not teacher. The reports I am dealing with are the students’ “capstone” work product.

        I will try to minimize the rewrites. It is a function of timing–earlier in the semester, all comments, later in the semester, more suggested rewrites.

        One thing–the current crop of students do seem to have healthy egos. They make up their own minds or they don’t know what they don’t know. Not sure which.

        0

  11. I give up; I have to break down and ask: What does (g) mean? I see it so often in the comments. Giggle? Glare? Gag? Something completely different?
    I googled it, I looked at a page of chat room slang, I looked at a slang dictionary (must, at all costs, present myself as wise, knowledgeable, and practically perfect), but I have to give up – what, What, WHAT does it meeeeaaan?????

    0

    1. Far as I’ve always known it means grin, but I can’t speak for Jenny. She might have meant something else.

      0

  12. I’m kind of skipping around the blog today. I don’t think you were rude — forthright, maybe, but not rude.

    0

  13. I do not enjoy writing nor am I good at it. However, I work at a university and thus must publish. So, I wrote an article. The “journal” I submitted it to thanked me. Turns out they also edited it and published the edited version without ever showing it to me. They completely changed the meaning in the first sentence so that I was now working at a community college. On one hand, not a big thing as to the point of the article, but on the other hand, a huge deal to me as I have to share this article with the committee that reviews me during the tenure process. I contact them with a big WTF? They were like, no we never bother sharing our edits before publishing as we are in a time crunch nor will we change it. This was extra rude because it took them 3 months to publish it after submitting it and it was an electronic journal. Fixing it would take 5 minutes. Argh!

    0

  14. Okay Jenny I know you were writing this about me – just kidding. Couldn’t resist, sorry. I haven’t had anyone rewrite for me but I do have to get into a certain mental space before taking work criticism. I want to get everything I can out of the criticism but I don’t want my work to be walked on. Fine line sometimes.

    0

    1. If people are offering criticism you asked for, you get to choose what you take and what you discard. I’m not sure my work has ever been walked on because nobody has the power to change it but me.

      0

  15. I don’t teach English, but I did torture my own 2 kids. Told them flat out I couldn’t do their work for them because, “It would sound like me, not you.” Now that they are older and I’m trying to get them to ‘toot their own horn’ better, they tell me, “Mom, that sounds like you, I have to write this to sound like me.” I think I did good.

    0

    1. I think you did more than good. You deserve a medal. If the truth were known about how few college application essays were written by the applicants . . .

      0

  16. When I wrote my quilt book, the editor definitely changed elements in my text. I just thought it came with the territory. There were only a few sentences that bothered me afterwards — one, when the technical writer didn’t understand my technique and changed my sentence so it gave the wrong information, and then two other places where I thought, “I would never have written this sentence.”

    But fiction is something else. I have never really seen this articulated before. It makes a lot of sense to me. What you said about the limits you have with Lani and Krissie about how to approach critiquing really struck me, too. I don’t have confidence but I do want to learn — so I always worked on the assumption that I just needed to suck it up no matter how the criticism came at me. Geez — when you say it, it’s just so obvious that we’re all different and we need to protect our writing selves in whatever way is true to who we are.

    I needed to hear it though.

    0

    1. the technical writer didn’t understand my technique and changed my sentence so it gave the wrong information

      The word STET is your friend in these instances.
      —An editor

      0

  17. I’ve been following these posts and just wanted you all to know how much I’ve enjoyed and learned from your experiences with critique partners and writing. I started with a group of 3 other writers and was far too often influenced by what they said. I always thought, well hell, they must know what they’re talking about, they’ve won writing competitions, or came close. 😉
    There are no more critique partners. I feel lucky that I have cold readers who are honest and will tell me what they think, story wise. I spent an hour or so with my copy editor this morning. She also writes and understands the process. I’m lucky to have her too.

    0

    1. Isn’t it strange how we often think that all the others have it down pat but we don’t? I think I brought up my kids that way – assuming all the other smart kindergarten mothers knew EXACTLY what was the right way, only poor me was bluffing my way through the parenting jungle. Took me years to find out I wasn’t the only one ;o)

      With my writing, I’m not doing that anymore. I guess I developed a “take it or leave it” attitude, and surprisingly, my publishers took most of it. At least, my galleys always come back with just minor corrections.

      0

  18. I left a critique group partly for this reason. One person would rewrite my work. Not only would he rewrite it to his style (very different from mine), he would do it in dark blue pen. So the visual was horrible. I was starting to feel as though I was handing in an assignment to a particularly harsh professor. And I got really tired of searching through his re-writing for the one or two gems of critique.
    I’d ask several times for him to stop, but it was how he wanted his work critiqued so I guess he couldn’t see the problem.

    0

  19. A lot of time when people want to rewrite my stuff, they are eliminating my voice. I find that irksome. Mostly because if I wanted to I could be extremely dry all by myself. You should see my honors thesis from College. Booooooring. But readable and factual and an A paper. So when someone takes out the stuff that I feel makes my work fun, (No Lani, this is not you) I get a tad cranky. And I often stop reading what they had to say. So we both lose an opportunity. Them to communicate what bothered them and me to hear what bothered them. I understand that not all readers will like my voice, I’m okay with that. Just don’t try and take it away from me!

    0

  20. I blew my first and so far, only chance at being published in romance because my story got passed around to 3 different editors and they all wanted to change everything. I finally got the owner to mutually agree to tear up our contract. It’s still the story I wanted to write even if I never sell it. Protect the work is a great mantra.

    0

  21. I’m a freelance wreditor. I’ve written/trad published eighteen novels. I’ve freelance edited as many client manuscripts. The key way having been edited informs my editing is: an editor without a specific reason for a change(s) is imposing him/herself on your story. Conversely, the writer must have specific story-centric reasons a change can’t/won’t work. “I love it the way I wrote it” isn’t good enough. Once spent four days ranting, raving, sniveling, stomping over an editor insisting the novel’s ending must be changed. No reason, just thou shalt change, because I’m the editor and you aren’t.” Spleen vented, I forwarded specific plot- and characterization reasons the change would not and did not work. The cascade effect the change would have from about a third into the book. She (yeehaw) agreed, and said she’d never had a writer focus on specifics, as I had (aka dumb luck on my part). But have to say, for all the four-day meltdown misery, she taught me (maybe accidentally) the difference between a subjective change and an objective one. I’m forever in her debt, and bring that lesson to every client’s manuscript I edit. Much of why my editing notes go 35-40, single-spaced pages, I’d reckon.

    0

  22. Here’s a more funny take on someone checking/critizing early work…
    http://christinadodd.com/blog/index.php?blogid=000002

    May make some people laugh their way home to their own work…

    But I think the fear of failure lurks in everyone… and if someone tears your work apart, you do feel like you’ve failed… but just remember, you can please some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time… pick your time..

    0

  23. I think I would make a lousy editor. Assuming not every book that crosses their desks is Crusie-level material, they probably wade through a lot of well intentioned but very awkward writing. It must take incredible willpower to resist tweaking, to guide instead of just re-writing.

    0

    1. Yeah, but it takes longer to rewrite than to say, “This isn’t working and here’s why.” So there’s no point in rewriting.

      0

  24. I think, as a reader, it gets down to – you have to trust the writer to find their own solutions. They won’t do it the way you would, but it’s not your work.

    I’ve been guilty of rewriting someone else’s work – it was a filk song, back in my choir days – and it’s one of the bitterest regrets in my memory bank. I should have known better. I did know better. It sounds silly, I know, and the original author has probably long forgotten it, but it is one of a very small handful of things I wish I could undo in my life.

    0

  25. Voice has come up so much in this discussion that I’ve started wondering how you deal with voice in collaborations. The voice in the Crusie-Meyer collaborations seems quite different than the voice in Dogs and Goddesses, which certainly makes sense. I gather that you each write different characters, but if the voice changed with each character it seems like that would be very jarring and I don’t notice anything like that in D&G. I missed out on He Wrote, She Wrote; you may have covered this topic there. But all the talk about voice in this post got me wondering. Do all the collaborators try to get a feel for the new collaborative voice ahead of time and try to write in a way that is in tune with that? Do you all just write as usual and then see what emerges as the chapters unfold? Are you deliberately writing a little differently to be in the collaborative voice? Do you critique each other’s work from a voice viewpoint? (And how does that work with you and Lani, as you mentioned that the two of you have discovered it doesn’t work for you to critique her work?)
    This may be way too big a topic to cover right now, especially when you’re so busy, and I’m loving the 12 Days of Liz and don’t want to interrupt that. I’m just curious and I’m musing (this blog, Jenny’s post and then all the comments, always gets me thinking and this is what I’m thinking about right now). Comment if you feel so inspired, I guess. Otherwise – as you were.

    0

    1. We never worried about voice because we always took one character each, so our voices would be different because the characters’ voices were different. I think where collaboration affects voice is in the mood of the story. I wrote romantic adventure with Bob and romantic comedy with Krissie and Lani.
      But no, we never talked about voice. I think your voice is your voice and it’s very hard to write in any other voice, always allowing for the different shades that different characters bring to their sound.

      0

  26. I’ve tried to make this comment four times, but my brain’s mush these days, and I couldn’t get out what I was trying to say, but here goes; A writer’s ‘voice’ is like singing. You can take the same song sung by twenty people with the exact words, and it sounds different even when the singer’s trying to mimic someone else’s version. With a writer’s ‘voice’, the words or the order of them may vary, but the ‘voice’ comes through clearly if the writer’s any good. If the writer’s really good, the reader gets so into the voice that even if the words are exactly the same as those used by someone else, the meaning, the song of them, is still shaped and shaded by the writer’s voice.

    That being said, every single reader hears the same writer’s voice differently. My Jenny Crusie is different from every other reader’s Jenny Crusie because all of us apply our own filters and meanings. So, the writer’s voice is already changed by the reader. When you start adding other people’s words to it before the reader even gets her hands on it, it becomes like your cousin’s offspring’s offspring; second cousin three times removed. More simply put, it’s like a game of telephone. What goes in is never the same as comes out.

    0

  27. I was reading a story recently that I finally had to put down without finishing. The author threw in extra (and IMO unnecessary) adjectives and adverbs in every sentence, and used words that made it look like she wrote with a thesaurus so she would sound educated. I wanted to see where she would go with the story, because it was a cute idea, but I was changing every sentence in my head, and it was taking me out of the story. The story was a self published free download so I didn’t waste my money. But that author really needed an editor or a critique group.
    Also, I would have loved Jessie and Will’s story. I have them together in my head at the end of Manhunting every time I re-read it, which is a couple of times a year. That and Anyone But You, and Bet Me are my comfort reads. The only other book I re-read as frequently as those is Countess Below Stairs by Ibbotson. Okay, done rambling.

    0

  28. Hi,

    Long time lurker, first time poster and sorry to butt-in here…but-

    I find myself in the weird place of disagreeing. Which does feel really weird. I love Jenny’s writing (to the point where, despite the fact that I do NOT like romance at all, I have read almost all her books) and I have found Jenny’s advice on writing to be some of the clearest and most helpful on the net (a way too belated ‘thank you’ for all the help). And I’m not a professional writer by any means – but I do write for fun. And I have to say that for the most part I *prefer* when my beta readers rewrite rough parts. Not the whole thing, no, that would drive me nuts, but if I have a spot where there is an issue, I really like having an example to draw from. In short ‘This doesn’t flow’ means almost nothing to me. Is it too dry? to short? to long? does it jump around? is it not clear in content? Not consistent in character? What do you mean?? If you say its out of character, what does that mean? If the words are rough, in what way? ACK!

    So I *like* it when I get a re-write. I like the new way at looking at a line. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’m dyslexic – my word ‘flow’ can be very different from the average bear (AKA normal, intelligent people 😉 ) and I accepted that a long time ago. But my weird flow also gives me a unique voice…and one that I don’t give up easily.

    ‘Re-writes’ help me to find that balance between what’s ‘expected’ – and readible – and how my inner voices work. I can see how someone else would handle the same lines… and decide for myself if I need to change, and by how much. (BTW: I almost never just ‘cut and paste’ a rewrite in…its more like… restructuring my sentence on a better rhythm, if that makes sense?)

    That being said – *nothing* any editor says is law. The betas I work with are all in agreement – everything they say to me (or me to them) is just suggestion. I am free to take it or leave it. And I have had non-rewriting betas that were just as ‘voice stripy’ with the way they wanted to do to my commas and paragraphs, or change words – it made me reject all of their edits across the board.

    I guess, for me, a ‘rewrite’ is no more – or less – offensive than any other type of suggestion… and a whole lot more helpful, over all.

    Of course, I am talking about non-professional, non-published stuff, so maybe I just have a lot more freedom to say ‘Thanks for the help, but no.’

    Still, I don’t think I’m taking the ‘easy’ answer by not minding rewrites. I’m grown up enough to look at two versions of the same line – mine and theirs – and learn from both. Not saying that I think anyone here is wrong, just that re-writes kind of work for me – as long as I always get final say in how my words work.

    Thanks and sorry for the long post.

    0

    1. Not at all, you make an important point. I would argue that that’s something that has to be established up front: “It’s okay if you rewrite my words.” And if it hasn’t been established, don’t do it because the people who want that and don’t get it are not going to be nearly as upset and the people who didn’t ask for it and got it any way. That is, it won’t feel like a violation to not be rewritten.

      The dyslexia aspect of it is interesting, though. Have you tried dictating your books into Dragon software? That would eliminate the filter of translating the story onto the page. I need that filter but it may just be making things harder for you.

      0

      1. I *absolutely* agree that the way a writer and editor function together should be set-up before any re-writes start. That should never be a surprise. I have no problem with asking how someone wants a beta from me – what kinds of things and in what way – and am always happy to answer that question from someone who might edit for me. I do think that it is better to not , um… surprise? horrify? scar horribly? 😉 an author by doing a rewrite *before* asking. I just wanted to say that for me, it does work, and that I *personally* don’t mind it.

        I also think that the ‘re-writer’ has to do some very careful self-monitoring. I once had to pull back from a writer I worked with as a primary beta when I realized that her ‘voice’ was starting to sound a lot like mine. She was okay with it, but honestly it disturbed me a little, and we mutually decided to step apart for awhile. The separation was good for both of us and we still ‘beta’ for one another now, with better rules in place.

        I do occasionally use Dragon. For me it works best when I’m working on something academic. When I’m writing fiction…’talking’ the story somehow pulls me away from it. I can’t just…feel it the way I can when I’m writing. I think the reality of my voice gets in the way – as weird as that sounds.

        Thanks for replying to me. 🙂 It was kind of a thrill. To talk to you directly. (So totally feeling like a fan girl now). 😀

        0

  29. I think it’s kind of interesting that I come from a slightly different angle on this: I have people ask me to re-word their work and I fight hard not to give in and do it. In my field, a lot of emails and presentations to clients include an aspect of breaking down complex concepts into bite-sized portions, and no one wants to make a mistake that ends up adding confusion instead of relieving it.

    People send their emails and presentations to me and ask me to re-word them, and for a lot of years I did. The day is short and the challenges are many and it was just faster to do that versus offering guidance so they could do it themselves. Coming off of years of experience with ‘just doing it’, I have a different take: it’s one thing to look at something that’s 99% of the way there and point out how a word choice or sentence could confuse a layperson; it’s quite another to become the office crutch. Being a crutch only encourages an ugly brand of intellectual laziness and gives people the notion that they don’t need to fully develop all of the tools needed to get the job done for themselves (it’s so easy – just go borrow someone else’s!)

    As a recovering crutch, I find that though it creates some cringe-worthy moments (e.g. the guy who uses the term “policys” in emails to clients – egads! – why can’t I get through on that one?!?), over-all it’s better for everyone if I restrain myself from ‘just doing it’ and instead hold myself to observations about flow, putting themselves into the shoes of the reader, sticking to the point, making friends with dictionaries and spell check, and how fun it is to use a thesaurus.

    In short, my new motto is Don’t Be a Tool. (Or: Let People Be Their Own Tools.)

    0

    1. That’s a really good point. You’re not doing anybody any favors by making the writing easier for them; it’s a struggle to find a good, clear voice, but it’s worth it.

      0

  30. Jennifer, I’m a fan of yours. I read all of your books, some two or three times, and enjoyed them all. I love your blog too; it makes me smile and it’s been the best series of writing/editing lessons I’ve had in a while. I never commented before, but this post strikes too close to home. I’m a beginner writer, and a publisher who accepted my first novel assigned me an editor. And the editor dislikes my book. She hates the hero, she hates the heroine, and she hates the story. She wants a different kind of book, and I don’t know what to do. Although some of her comments, minor ones mostly, are good advices, and I used them during rewriting, most of them are unacceptable to me. Some of her critiques had me baffled really; it feels like she never read the genre I’m writing in – traditional fantasy. But the contract says the publisher has the final approval of my work, so I’m stuck. I can’t give her what she wants, and she wouldn’t take what I can offer. But I wonder: am I too stubborn for a newbie? Anyway, thanks for raising this issue.

    0

    1. You sound like me. I sold a book once that the editor didn’t like (she bought it to keep my option clause), and it was an awful experience. Give in on what doesn’t matter to you, and on the stuff that does, explain in detail why you can’t make that change. She’ll have to respond and you can at least find out what it is she wants and possibly find a way to meet her needs in other ways besides what she’s asking for.
      Also, get a second opinion from an outside reader, anybody who reads in the genre you book is supposed to be in (what genre did they buy it for?) and see what she thinks. Sometimes “that’s what my genre does” isn’t enough. You want your book to appeal to all readers, so writing specifically for one audience can make the book difficult for readers outside that genre.
      But the real solution is to talk to your editor and explain things.

      0

      1. Thanks for your reply. You’re right, it’s very unpleasant. After I received the editor’s comments I was very upset and I goggled her. She is a writer too and she writes inspirational paranormal romance. I write sword and sorcery, and the romantic line in my story is secondary. AS far as I know the publisher bought it as traditional fantasy, but this particular editor wasn’t with them at that moment. She was hired later. More, my communications with the publisher afterwards made me suspect they never actually read my story, just the synopsis. It’s almost a surreal experience. They’re one of the new bunch of small publishers and most of what they publish is paranormal romance. I feel like an odd duck. Sorry to dump it here, I just don’t have anywhere else to complain.

        0

        1. No apologies necessary. They may have bought on the synopsis thinking it was paranormal romance, and now she’s trying to make your book into what they thought they bought. If the expectation of the reader is that when she buys a book from these people, it’s going to be a romance (in the way that people know Harlequins will be romances), she may not have any choice; it may be the publisher’s mandate. Reader expectation is huge in reader satisfaction. So you may have to strengthen the romantic plot if you want to write for this publisher. I know, it’s awful, but if that’s what they publish, you’re stuck unless you want to buy back the contract.

          0

Comments are closed.