I have several writing axioms that I keep repeating to people. Even editors need editors; real life doesn’t need to make sense, fiction does; writing is an art, not a science.
It’s the latter that I repeat most often on this blog, and SF&F author Sarah Hoyt has a good piece about it today. She describes her experiences with people who insist on the One Right Way for art. I could tell early on that different writers had different styles, just as different painters are easily distinguished from their fellows. Figuring out what worked for me was something that took years of trial and error. Actually, it’s still ongoing.
That’s because there’s no one way to tell a story. Art is not science, and trying to make it that way just won’t work. Techniques that work with one book might not work with another, even if both are by the same author. Experiment and see what works. Rewrite it when it doesn’t. Keep trying.
When I edit, I focus on trying to make your book work on its own merit. Even if I’ve covered your manuscript in edits, my focus isn’t to rewrite it the way I would do it; it’s to figure out the best expression for how you tell your own story. That’s important, and it’s a skill that editors have to work at constantly. After all, the One Right Way is just a synonym for “This is how I do it.” Editors must be more flexible. Sure, there are certain universal things, but hey . . . they’re more like guidelines than actual rules.
I don’t care how many bestsellers an author has to his or her name; if that author tells you he or she has learned “the secret,” don’t believe it. That author is lying, has reached a peak, or has a surprise in store.
After you’ve read Sarah’s post, leave me a comment. Have you encountered someone telling you that something you wrote didn’t work just because that person didn’t do it that way? Did you listen to experts that turned out to not have quite the expertise you thought they did? I’d love to hear your stories.