I try to avoid writing about writing. After all, what the hell do I know? And what works for me might not work for anyone else. But I do know one thing. While the act of writing might be a solitary occupation, bringing that writing to the printed page is a team effort.
A good editor makes a huge difference.
I’ve been lucky, I’ve had several. There was the guy in charge of The Rocket who offered me tips and chances 20 years ago before unleashing me on an unsuspecting Pacific Northwest. For his own safety, it’s better to leave him nameless, although I feel indebted to him.
In the late 1990s, well established, with well over a dozen non-fiction titles under my belt, as well as regular appearances in music magazines and on local National Public Radio, I began writing for a website called Sonicnet. It doesn’t exist any more – MTV bought it and I’ve no idea what happened after that. It was a music news site. I was a freelancer in the amorphous ‘World Music’ section, and it was demanding, writing and researching stories five days a week, tracking people down, interviewing first and second sources.
With my experience, I felt pretty confident when I turned in my first story. It came back torn apart by the editor. At first I felt affronted. I knew how to write, I’d been doing it a while. But he worked with me. Once I’d stopped raising my hackles in defence, I read, listened – and learned. Over the course of a year or more, he improved my writing 100 per cent. Again, I’m hugely grateful.
Starting review for national NPR in 2000, my producer was a perfectionist. I voice the script I write, and she’d have me going over it time after spending, spending up to an hour for what was little more than two minutes of text. But it helped me not only be better on air, but (hopefully) as a writer. I learned to write for voice, not for the page.
And then there’s Lynne Patrick, the editor of my novels. I’ve been lucky, and had the same one from The Broken Token to the about-to-be-published Fair and Tender Ladies (not that this is an ad, you understand). She’s become a friend, but also one who knows my writing and can call me on things I’ve missed. I almost always accept the changes she suggests, and they make the book better. I’ve even dedicated this book to her, for all she’s done to improve my writing.
She’s the direct link. But not to forget commissioning editors (the people who say ‘Yes, we’ll have that” – extremely important, the publishers themselves, designers and proofreaders. They all deserve their plaudits. Yet this one goes out in praise of editors. Thank you.