Avoid the Ought-To’s

I met a free-lance editor at a science convention fiction, at one of the hall tables, several years ago, and we started talking. She was very persuasive, and everything she said was true. I took her card. A few days later I thought about it some more. From what I can remember, even at the rates she was charging, I could not afford her services. So far, what I have earned from the sale of the books I publish myself has not been enough to cover the cost of editing.

I’ve said many times: Writers cannot achieve their full potential without the objectivity of an editor. This is true. But I have been working for years to acquire the necessary skills to be objective about my own work. Objectivity can be learned, and learning how to edit is part of my growth as a writer. I will not let myself be sidetracked from that growth by being told that I “ought to” let someone else do it for me.

The “ought-to’s” are dangerous. You”ought to” write this way. You “ought to” work that way. You “ought to” structure your story like this. You “ought to” avoid certain themes, character types, long sentences, unfamiliar sub-genres, large words, open ambiguous endings, and so on. You do have to be careful about these things, but what is better is to master them instead of avoiding them. Every time that I succumb to an “ought to,” whatever it is or its source, I go astray and lose my story. If, in spite of this, I force a story to completion, it lacks life. It always fails to be what I wanted it to be. And it’s usually pretty awful, too.

1 Comment

Comments are closed.