Composing and Editing
by Bill Bowler and Don Webb
[A contributor] Thank you for the feedback. I don’t have any training or schooling in writing so I guess I make pretty basic mistakes at times which drives me crazy when I realize it. I see what you’re saying and I’m trying to get better — to the point where I can crank stories out and not have to worry about such fundamental mis-steps.
I feel like a guy working out long equations at the chalkboard but then I get to a point where I forget how to add — it sounds strange but feels like that sometimes. I dont’ know why. I didn’t know you shouldn’t shift tenses around but now I do.
Any advice or further comments would help me. I have a lot of ideas that I would love to get out and I guess I need some help. There’s nothing I want more than to express myself clearly. I will take all comments into consideration when I fix my story. Thanks for your time. I really do appreciate it.
[Don Webb] This contributor speaks for many others, and the message deserves a lot of credit for candor and intellectual honesty. It’s a reminder that the best students are not necessarily the ones who always get A’s. Rather, they’re the ones who are curious about what they need to know and have the initiative to master it.
No one can “crank out” stories without worrying about fundamentals — or at least paying close and constant attention to them. Experience will eventually make those fundamentals second nature, but you’ll always have to keep them in mind.
It’s a bit like driving a car. It’s one thing to know how to start it up, accelerate, steer, and brake. But to go anywhere, you need to know the rules of the road: driving on the proper side of the street, signaling at turns, stopping at stop signs, etc. That’s what the “mechanics” of grammar and punctuation are all about.
It’s been said that “all writing is rewriting.” Bewildering Stories puts it more bluntly: “Proofreading never ends.” Here’s a practical tip about rewriting: when you’ve finished composing, put the work aside for three days, to clear it out of your short-term memory. Then come back and reread it critically not as the author but as a reader coming fresh to it.
You have to make a conscious effort to do that. You almost literally have to say to yourself: “I am now a reader. What is this piece of writing, anyway?” And when you find yourself mentally rewriting the text, then it’s time to pick up the pencil again. You do not want readers doing the rewriting for you; that’s not their job, and they’ll quit early.
[Bill Bowler] Thanks for your email. The text that we put up on the website has to be correct in terms of typos, punctuation and grammar. Otherwise it looks like we’re doing sloppy work.
The question is: who is going to do that final polish of the text? The editors here don’t really have time to do it due to the volume of submissions and, not only that, it’s not necessarily our job anyway. We need our authors to deliver texts that are reasonably correct in the basic mechanics of writing.
As for shifting tenses of narration — it shouldn’t be done without a reason. It’s the equivalent of saying, “Yesterday I tried to unlock the door but I forget my key.”
Now, your work is quite interesting, but we still must ask you to deliver “clean” texts to us, without the kinds of errors I’m talking about. I would recommend you read a short book called Elements of Style by Strunk & White. It is the best of its kind and quite illuminating. You can pick it up from Amazon for 50 cents.