A writer’s creative potential

[Updated January 8, 2009: In my previous job as] a copyeditor, I worked closely with writers to improve their manuscripts prior to submission or, in some cases, just before publication. One of the most difficult aspects of my job was preparing an estimate after being contacted by a prospective client. Rather than simply quoting my fees, I usually took the time to discuss the writer’s objectives. I didn’t like to sell my copyediting services to someone who had unrealistic expectations about the outcome. Editing is expensive, and writers don’t always balance the cost with the potential benefit. They can be eager to spend money too soon, when finding an agent, landing a book deal, having a story published in a respected periodical, or profiting from self-publishing is not yet likely. They have more to learn.

It can be agonizing to tell writers they need to spend additional time perfecting their craft. I empathize. They’re excited about seeing their work in print. They haven’t thoroughly assessed the quality or scope of the competition. They want to be without going through the stages of becoming.

I want to be appreciative and enthusiastic about the work of every writer I encounter. Everyone needs a champion. But white lies make me uncomfortable, and encouraging someone without giving false hope is a delicate maneuver.

In the following video, Ira Glass, the producer and host of the radio program This American Life describes the gap between having good taste and being able to artfully execute what is envisioned:

And the thing I would just, like, say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste, and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew that it fell short. And, like, some of us can admit that to ourselves, and some of us are a little less able to admit that to ourselves.

The good ideas come first. The skill to communicate them brilliantly in a way that appeals to readers or to an audience takes years of practice. Glass explains without sounding pretentious. I wish I were as adept.

4 Replies to “A writer’s creative potential”

  1. Writing can be like looking into a fun-house mirror; you only have to go back the next day and re-read what was written to see that there are usually changes that need to be made — changes that are somehow magically missed while in the midst of the actual writing.

    Even after you’ve gotten it down after years and years of writing, still, that internal editor is your writing’s best friend no matter how good you are, or become. So are the eyes of others, who can read ones writing with a fresh perspective.

    Great blog entry.


  2. Amelia & Emily:

    Thanks for your reassuring comments. I wish my internal editor were loyal enough to warn me of split infinitives, but she only sees the bloopers in other people’s writing. Good critique partners are gold.

  3. Love the blog entry. Over the year of writing “seriously”–after waiting my entire lifetime to launch a writing career–I have come to understand that patience is a writer’s greatest asset. I appreciate the honesty of professional editors such as yourself. I know I have to spend more time as an apprentice before I can ever hope to achieve publishing success.

    Also, thanks for stopping by my blog. I’ve been so busy writing that I haven’t had much time to post, and that’s fine by me. The craft calls. What isn’t so fine is that I miss my blogging friends!

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