Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sh_t and Bricks

I've done my share of editorial work, both as a general editor selecting work by merit for publication and as a line editor pointing out mistakes in spelling, grammar, construction, etc. Nothing bothers me more than to receive a manuscript, for a single poem or for a book, which the author has not carefully prepared.

It feels as if the poet (writer, whatever) has taken what he has produced, dumped it loose on my doorstep, and asked me to see if there is a jewel in there. Most times I am turned away by the stench and texture alone; for a special reason I may dirty my hands.

What really annoys me is that a writer, finding that he can't do anything with his work, expects that I can and will, that I will grub through the material and find the lumps that may be precious stones, that I will turn worthless material into solid brick and build a structure with them.
That's not my job. My job is to see that the material offered is suitable for the purpose intended. To inspect the single poem and on its merits, not vague promises or possibilities, to decide whether it can be used in a work to which it has been submitted.

The same holds for a longer manuscript. I need to see that quality is maintained throughout, not to provide that quality. I need to see that the bricks fit together, not make or shape the individual brick.

It is so important that a writer learns early to be his own primary editor. He has to be able to recognize the smell of what he produces and measure that against what others make. He has to understand that you can't simply dry it out and give it a different shape. A brick made of sh_t is still pure sh_t and not much of a brick compared to other bricks.

So, before you hand me your crap, be aware of the smell of it. I may need it for fertilizer.

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