Saturday, January 14, 2012

HT Jared Wilson: Bearing with one another ...

Every writer needs an editor.  You can't truly edit yourself.  You may think you can and you may even be good at editing but if you think you don't need an editor you're probably still wrong unless your self-editing brings you regularly to the point where you reject an idea.  T. S. Eliot, some scholars have noted, was in key ways the kind of poet he was because of the material he decided wasn't fit to print.  Eliot demonstrated that you can become a remarkably important poet despite publishing a surprisingly small body of work compared to some other poets from the same time. 

One of the things an editor can (and must) do is to sit down and read what you've written.  An editor I worked very well with years ago explained the writer/editor relationship in the following way--as a writer I may be positive that I have said X and that I wrote exactly what I meant to say but the editor knows writing and knows where I'm coming from enough to plainly but tactfully indicate that what I have actually written is not X but Y.  A lot of what is intended as criticism in discerna-blogging anchors itself to the assumption that if a person wrote and published X then X could be the only possible meaning.  Having been a writer myself at different points in my life and having had my work published in a tiny handful of newspapers I've worked out that this is not the case and that it is the failure to make this rudimentary observation that has led not only discerna-bloggers but preachers to often fail to address things in more charitable (to say nothing of accurate!) ways.

The temptation to say the wittiest and swiftest thing in the moment of heat rarely ever produces any light.  As the makers of an Emmy award winning show once joked with more than a little confession, you never actually win the Emmy by going for the Emmy.  A lot of discerna-blogging and preacher responses to criticism all amount, in many cases, to going for winning the Emmy.  Maybe this metaphor is an attempt to squeeze blood from a turnip but it often seems that preachers and bloggers have been trying to win some kind of Emmy. 

It is important to read with some sympathy and it is important to write with some consideration.  Have I said what I was really aiming for?  Sometimes criticism is not an indication that what you were trying to say was wrong, it can be an indication that what you actually said is not at all what you thought you said.  One of my music teachers gave me some advice about composing and scoring that has stuck with me and the advice was this:  your job is not to be understood, your job is to not be misunderstood.  The point is not that I write a piece of music that the musician likes, it's that I write my music in such a clear way and with enough command of idiom and technique that there's no way that musician will play the wrong notes if the musician is competent.  There can come a point where the composer can complain about the imcompetence of musicians but there can come a point, if capable musicians say the score is sloppy, unclear, and that the music doesn't seem to make sense that this may not mean the composer's magnum opus is altogether bad.  It may mean the score was sent to the musicians with too little work done to make it clear.

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