I used to think that writers were two exotic beasts joined by a furrowed brow — the person that writes and the person that edits. The taxonomy has changed. Upon closer examination I recognised a third diablo poking out between the bones of the writer, clinging to the person and their reality and claiming to be an independent personality, the writer’s real self and willing to sell their souls for the quick hit on the oxygen of publicity and sales.
Writers are, of course, like children, always shouting look at me, look at me, I’m brilliant. You’re not looking. If you’re not going to look at me I’ll do something really stupid and you won’t like it. We rely on readers to make us complete. In The Things We Used To Say Natalia Ginzburg’s brother had a friend Cafi whom he would let read his writing and vice versa. No one else would understand the profundity of their words and there was little point trying. It was enough for them that the circuit between writer and reader had been completed. Most writers I know are shameless tarts they’ll let anybody read their writing and they don’t really care if they pay or not. Despite all her hundreds of millions of pounds J.K.Rowling still writes, but under a pseudonym. There was a rumour that she was flaunting herself on ABCtales, but because she did not get a coveted cherry flounced away. Money can’t buy everything. I made an editorial choice never to give J.K.Rowling a cherry.
As an editor of my own work I always give myself a cherry. I’m word blind. I can’t see the inconsistencies, the banal, the cliched. The growing power over words makes the writer omnipotent and he alters the outer self to the inner self. I grew up in a world of words. Instead of the Tourette-tic of a mate answering the moan of a phone or IPod tablet while you are talking to them people used to pull out a copy of Lily Poole and read a few paragraphs while you were boring the pants off them. ‘Boring the pants off them’ is cliched. Psychologists measure how long it takes a reader to process information in tenth of a thousand of seconds and cliches takes less time. Saccades when the eye focuses on a word or group of words is usually an indication that at unconscious level there is something ambiguous in the written word. The best way to check this is to read your work aloud. That way your are engaging the visual field and complementing it with the aural. I pay lip service to that idea. Get somebody else to read your work. They are blind in ways that you are not. But remember meaning can change. A Jimmy Did It For Me badge has not the same meaning as it did four years ago.
Writers are invisible and good writers tell you things you already think you know. I’ve already touched on this conundrum of when to make the invisible visible using the Brad Pitt index http://www.abctales.com/blog/celticman/brad-pitt-index. To sell a book you’ve increasingly got to sell your own story of who you are and how you’ve got here. The stories we tell ourselves are the most powerful forces on earth. Pledge to Lily Poole
and read between the lines. Go further even and read the lines. Just stay off that damn phone.