If you haven’t seen it already, a cartoon from the wonderful Tom Gauld.
One question: HOW?!
There have been a couple of situations recently where I’ve felt my lack. It’s not that I’m not good at it; I think I am. It’s that I need to be better.
I am a member of Sfep (and pretty close to getting my Professional status!) but actually, their training hasn’t been that helpful; I know how to use Word, I’ve got the basics of editing… it’s excellent for beginners, but for me, it’s the details that I’m feeling need improvement. Basically, I need to work on my reading comprehension. I need to work on what could be changed; I need to work on any and all improvements. I need to work on my skills at improving an existing book, and helping the author perfect and polish.
The problem is – how do I do this? It’s an ongoing problem in publishing, I think: how do you teach someone to recognise a good book, or to recognise what could be improved?
It’s an incredibly personal skill, too: there’s a huge balancing act between changing something just because you don’t like it, changing something because it’s not how you’d do it, and changing something because there’s a better way of doing it. All can potentially be good, bad or ugly: and all need to be used in moderation!
My aim is always to keep the author’s voice and style and choices as the primary objective, but… maybe I do need to start trusting myself more?
Just because someone’s a good writer doesn’t mean they don’t miss things (spelling names three different ways, for example…) and it doesn’t mean that something can’t be improved.
One of the problem areas is that I tend to have niggles about books, but struggle to pull them out into “actually, yes, this could be changed.” I’m putting an arbitrary number on it to make me think, not because every book will have issues – some will have more or less!
This is what I struggle with; the balance between what I like, what I enjoy reading and what’s good – and what I don’t think is good simply because I don’t like it. But – if something’s a niggle, that doesn’t mean that it’s just me; it means that actually, it might be a problem that I can fix! If something jumps out, I can usually spot that, but sometimes it’s just a….hmmmm. Hum. Maybe…
I think my little voice that identifies those things, that separates the difference between “I personally don’t like it” and “It could be improved” needs work, and the only way I can think of to do that is to keep going!
I think this is key: I just need to keep working on what I think makes a good book. I need to have that editor voice looking in when I’m reading; I often try to turn it off and let my brain just enjoy things, but actually, leaving it running might help me learn!
I was lucky enough to help a friend with multiple drafts last year, and learned so much; I could see him improving with every draft, and it was a real lesson in what could be worked on. My two colleagues at work have also offered to share skills and experience, which is fantastic – we just need to find time to do it!
So; I’ve got some ideas for how to keep improving, but no firm plan. I’m not sure it’s a skill that can really be taught except by experience and just damn well doing it – so, I’ll just keep damn well doing it!
So I was chatting to Otter about their writing, and they expressed worry about the Bechdel Test. “I mean, if I have a male main character, should they… overhear a conversation? I mean, I could have them eavesdropping. Or maybe just walk in on one? But that would mean they’re in the room-”
“Hang on, hang on. They can be present during the conversation.”
“Oh! Ok. I thought it was a conversation without a man present.”
“…no. The bar is literally set low enough that it has to be a conversation.”
And there was a moment of silence as we contemplated exactly how low the bar was that just one conversation between two women is hard to hit.
“And it can’t be about a man?” Otter adds.
“So… an argument about who’s turn it is to wash up?” I got another ‘really?’ look. “Yeah. Seriously. Hey, have you come across the Sexy Lamp Test?”
“You have got to be joking.”
“And Sexy Lamp With Post-It. Ok, go look up Mako Mori. That’s a good one.”
Some more contemplation was had, possibly about the state of the world.
“So… what happens if you don’t meet the tests?”
“Nothing. It just depends if you want to your books to be bought by readers who don’t want to consider women as characters.”
I was given a writing prompt – “home” – for a trip to Amsterdam a while back, and I’ve been musing over it since. This is the latest scribble on the subject!
Home is the sunlight golden glow, and the ripple of winds across the grasses.
Home is the gate where I leave a kiss waiting for you, if you’re not with me.
Home is the stack of books waiting to be shelved; the scribble of foreign tongue waiting to be learned; the scrabble of song waiting to be released.
Home is the spire that pinions the skyline; the pylons that march overhead; the gentle hill that tugs me on.
Home is a city of familiar potholes and unfamiliar tongues; of nooks and recommendations; of drizzle and traffic and smiles.
Home is the spiderweb of cracks that is slowly weaving into the word; here.