Fair warning: I’m feeling a little stabby about “professional” writers at the moment. The language of this post is a mite stronger than usual. Uncensored honesty, and such.
I have more experience as a semi-professional editor than as a paid writer. What I do for work now involves a fair amount of editing work–probably at least as much as it involves writing copy. In college, I interned as an editor’s assistant, served on the editorial board of the school paper, did copyediting for the academic journal, and ran the student literary magazine. In short: I’ve been on both sides of the manuscript, and I promise you, if you love the starving artist mystique and don’t actually want to make a living from your pen, there are three easy things you can do to send your editor into a bloody rage spiral.
1. Miss Deadlines. Repeatedly.
One missed deadline, dying parent, sick kid–it happens. Fine. Two missed deadlines…well, you’ve got a drama-filled life, maybe we’ll try to cut you a break. Three missed deadlines in a row? You’re an inconsiderate asshole. Do you think your piece of writing flutters from your email directly to the printer? Do you think photos done’t need to be sourced, layout doesn’t need to be managed, or that the abundance of typos you created by vomiting out your piece in a last-minute felthesh of desperation are destined to be paradigm changers for the world of literature? When your work is late, you either force nice people into working late and missing time with their sick kids and dying parents or you lower the quality of the publication you’re working for, and by god, if you have an editor who will stand for it, you should fall to your knees and thank the muses who are looking out for your unprofessional self.
2. Ignore Word Count. Astronomically.
If you work for a print publication, you’ve had this lecture. More words means more money for the print job, and that is not going to fly with the publisher, even if you do have the kindest of editors, one who looks upon your egotistical rambling with motherly affection. In the information age, text is cheap, and you probably take that as licence to babble on and on. You might think that the low, low cost of being able to say as much as you want automatically negates the age-old saw that being forced to shorten your work improves your writing. You might think the cheapness of online text means that readers will put up with endless, badly written drivel. Your editor, if you’re working for a respectable publication, has no such illusions. Lengthy text will either force your editor to spend hours doing the thoughtful editing you, dear writer, should have done in the first place, or it will force your editor to bury your not-as-lyrical-as-you-think meandering as the self-indulgent pile of elephant feces it is.
3. Reject Revisions. Gracelessly.
Now I am enough a writer to know that when you’ve opened your veins onto a page, having someone suggest that you might need to bleach out a few of those bloodstains makes you a bit light-headed. Nauseous, even. But the truth is that you don’t end up as an editor if you have a dead ear for language, and, in fact, the very nature of editing means that editors are getting their hands dirty with bleedings of a much wider variety than writers tend to. Editors hear all the time, “I think I know how my blood ought to splatter a lot better than you ever could. Editors are just failed writers, so how right could you possibly be?” What you’re ignoring, to your peril, is that editors have something you can’t have: perspective. They also don’t spend their entire working lives with their heads up their own rumps, as writers, by the very nature of the work, sometimes must. So yes, go ahead and call your editor a burned out, washed up, talentless hack for the sake of preserving the first draft sanctity of your blood-soaked rags. You don’t need publication or a paycheck to validate how much of a literary giant you are, right?