Monday, July 02, 2012

Writers and Copy Editors

I've been mulling over my last post about Doing What You're Not. I recevied some thought provoking feedback from friends and even some though provoking feedback from myself, but found things most clearly defined for me by Stephen King in his book On Writing.

On Writing, for those that have never read it, is a combination autobiography/writing guide from one of the US's most prolific and published authors.  Mr. King starts the book with his autobiography to demonstrate how he got his start on writing and got to where he is, then provides a guide on writing, then slips back into an autobiography about his life post-accident and how writing helped him move through that (which turns out to be the book On Writing).

In discussing the creative process, Mr. King does a good a job as any I've read (let's be fair:  better than most) about discussing the basics of writing, especially in a section that is about a third of the book and shorter than many whole books on aspects of writing but probably the best and most concise I've read.

In one section - on proofing - he makes the offhanded comment about correcting a comma, saying that although there are copyeditors it's something he should take care of.  The sentence just sat there, hanging in mid-air as I looked at it.  Suddenly it became clear.

There are two kinds of people in lots of things:  writers and copyeditors.  Writers may generate the great ideas and create the text, but their primary job is not to verify that everything is perfect (it's better, of course, and makes you look more professional but is not their primary job).  Copyeditors are the ones that catch errors, correct, make suggestions to the phrasing and words and punctuation.  Writers create, copyeditors make sure the creation is linguistically and grammatically correct.

One can't be the other - and shouldn't.  Writers trying to copyedit probably drive themselves batty; copyeditors trying to write (unless they're writers as well) may not have the creative spark.  But each of them works together in concert for a marvelous whole:  a book which is both well written and grammatically correct.

Can one adapt to the other?  I'm not sure.  I would think a writer could do a copyeditor's work, but for myself I find it slows me down a great deal, and for me writing is about catching the flow of ideas as they spill out.  I wonder as well for the detail oriented if they could write with speed, or would the inner corrective catch every error as it came out, preventing the full idea from becoming real.

But more importantly for me:  if one realizes one is a writer and not a copyeditor, can one find a way back to the writing side of the page?

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