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What a Respected Philosopher has to Say re: the Value of Editors

swmirskyswmirsky Creator
edited October 16 in Author Workshop
Not long ago on this forum we had several discussions in which the necessity of editors was discussed and some heated sentiments were exchanged. It was argued by one or two here that editors are ALWAYS essential, that no one can be his or her own editor. While I agree with that as a general rule (regarding both the value of editors and copy editors) I took the position that that is simply not true in an absolute sense. In particular I made the point that, for certain kinds of activities, editors are not really a help at all and might even prove a hindrance. The activity I had in mind specifically was writing philosophy (though this may well apply to any sort of writing, depending on the level of complexity and specialized knowledge that may be involved). The counterargument presented was that I was just refusing to acknowledge the obvious, that everyone needs an editor all the time.

I came across this YouTube clip last night of an interview with the well known academic philosopher Donald Davidson in which at about six minutes into the rather lengthy interview (6:40) he is asked by his interviewer whether editors help him in the writing of his material at all. His response (at 7:20) is no that he's never had any substantial help from an editor and that they often even get the grammatical stuff wrong (for the points he is trying to make).

He goes on to say (at the 8:35 marker) that there are "things that philosophers worry about, with respect to quotation marks, that other people don't or shouldn't." In other words, the writing of philosophy (as is no doubt the case with some other kinds of writing, as well) requires a certain kind of expertise which, in Donaldson's view (and I expect in the view of many another philosopher) is highly idiosyncratic to that philosopher.

While surely use of a copy editor/proofer can be a great tool (especially when we are tired or too close to the work) -- as I have recently come to see -- and sophisticated philosophical-level input from an editor may also be a welcome assist, editorial support is not always de rigueur and may, at times, actually be unhelpful. In Davidson's view, as in mine, there's good reason to prefer to avoid the ministrations of just any old editor or even the attentions of one with a level of philosophical sophistication  if he or she is not in sync with what you are trying to expound.

I know this runs against the orthodoxy preached here by certain posters. But it bears remembering that not everything fits the same mold and that is true in literature as in life.

Here's the link to that Davidson interview. The question about the value Davidson has found in editors begins shortly after the 6:30 minute marker:

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Comments

  • I only listened to Donaldson up to 10:00, but he seemed to not really understand what the role of an editor is or the purpose of having an editor. And in making his claim that they only fight him on punctuation, he comes off as pompous. 

    The journal willing to publish his work requested a specific format (reasons are largely irrelevant, it's their publication) and he felt the need to argue against it. Not for artistic reasons either, simply to be obstinate (it seems to me). If there's a standard regarding quotations that the journal uses, let it rest. They're preparing his content for publication to their standards. 

    From my perspective, Donaldson doesn't present much of an argument against editors. I don't write philosophy, so maybe I'm ill-suited to comment, but Donaldson seems to me like a navel-gazing twit more interested in pleasing himself than conveying ideas. If that's the case, self-publishing is great for him.

    If he really did have a desire to convey his ideas, he presence of readers and editors would be welcome, as they would help make his work more accessible to a broader audience. I simply cannot agree with the idea that editing and reviewing of your writing ever detracts from the content. It is fair to receive editorial review and disagree with it. The content is yours and nothing requires that you agree with other's opinions. But to dismiss the value of a good editor is arrogance in my opinion. 
  • swmirskyswmirsky Creator
    edited October 15
    Well he's a philosopher after all. Pompousity is in his DNA. As to understanding the role of an editor, I think the issue is really about what an editor brings to the table for philosophy and philosophers. So much of what a philosopher is trying to do consists of reconstructing or rearranging how we think about things (the world, ourselves, our role in it, etc.) that language becomes as much a tool for the philosopher as the ideas he or she is trying to work with. This is probably due to the fact that (as some philosophers maintain and I agree with) thought and language are intricately bound up with one another. What we think is informed by how we speak (how we have learned to speak) and what we say or can say shapes how we think about things. Thus editors, even in a field like philosophy, who come to their job with an idea of making sure we are clear (and consistent with the standard conventions of written language) just may miss the point the philosopher is trying to make.

    Many philosophers have done their work by creating whole new ways of speaking, new specialized languages (e.g., Kant, Hegel, Heidegger) while others, particularly in the Anglo-Empiricist linguistic tradition (Russell, Austin, Ryle, Wittgenstein), are interested in unpacking our language in order to lay bare certain ideas we may hold which they see as misleading. Language use, for both kinds of philosophers, is critical to what they mean to say and so, in cases like that, editors serving exclusively in the editorial function (as opposed to giving substantive feedback as fellow philosophers, i.e., the equivalent in philosophy of peer review) may do more harm than good.

    Correcting a philosopher's English is not like correcting a writer's English (at least not exactly unless the writer is, say, a James Joyce or Marcel Proust or some other great experimenter with language!) because the philosopher may have chosen (for better or worse) a particular locution to make a certain point essential to his or her exposition.

    I definitely agree that good writing should be clear (many philosophers aren't or don't recognize the need to be) and that editors (or any good reader) can and should flag unclarities and that that is a valuable contribution toward the successful completion of any written work. But many editors I've known don't recognize the limits on editing which a discipline like philosophy imposes. A philosophically unsophisticated editor can make a hash out of the work he or she is asked to edit.

    This isn't only limited to philosophy, of course. Many years ago, working as an analyst in a government agency, I was asked to draft a memo for our boss's signature. It concerned an issue that I was handling. The memo was really my response to the issue (as my boss didn't really understand it) but since he was in charge, not me, it had to go out under his signature. He returned the memo to me all marked up in red with a big grin on his face, having slashed words out to make it, as he said, simpler and clearer. There was only one problem. He had changed the meaning of a critical point. The more complex way I had stated the issue was needed to make that point. Simple isn't always best. This is much more the case in a field like philosophy (which certainly can benefit from a focus on clearer, simpler writing) where the fine points of a claim may require unusual locutions, a different kind of notation and/or more lengthy exposition. Sometimes how one uses quote marks, colons or semicolons, matters to the substance of what one is trying to say. How one says X is often material to what one is saying about X.

    As to Davidson:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Davidson_(philosopher)

    ". . . He served as Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley from 1981 to 2003 after having also held teaching appointments at Stanford UniversityRockefeller UniversityPrinceton University, and the University of Chicago. Davidson was known for his charismatic personality and the depth and difficulty of his thought.[5] His work exerted considerable influence in many areas of philosophy from the 1960s onward, particularly in philosophy of mindphilosophy of language, and action theory. While Davidson was an analytic philosopher, and most of his influence lies in that tradition, his work has attracted attention in continental philosophy as well, particularly in literary theory and related areas.[6]

    "Although published mostly in the form of short, terse essays that do not explicitly rely on any overriding theory, his work is nonetheless noted for a highly unified character, the same methods and ideas brought to bear on a host of apparently unrelated problems, and for synthesizing the work of a great number of other philosophers. He developed an influential truth-conditional semantics, attacked the idea of mental events as governed by strict psychological laws, and rejected the conception of linguistic understanding as having to do with conventions or rules, "

    I don't think self-publishing would have been his thing because he had no need for it. Those journals taking his work were generally been glad to have done so and, as he points out in the interview, they generally acceded to his stylistic preferences.

    Paul writes: ". . . to dismiss the value of a good editor is arrogance in my opinion." 

    Perhaps and in many cases I would definitely agree. But when the issue is something like this, the writer will know best. Even if there are good editors out there for this kind of effort (and I'm certain there are), they're likely to be hard to locate and, if they're really any good, they'll confine what they do to pointing out things they are personally unclear about rather than presuming to speak for the professional audience targeted by questioning the substantive choices the writer has made in his or her exposition. Aside from flagging typos and comparable textual errors, they will refrain from trying to push their own grammatical norms or stylistic preferences on the writer they are editing as the journal Davidson cited apparently was trying to do. 

  • swmirskyswmirsky Creator
    edited October 15
    One reason to think Davidson is being more than merely pompous here in his rejection of editors in general for his work, even editors technically versed in his field, is to consider the sorts of things he was writing about. From that wiki article I cited above:

    Following, among others, Rudolf Carnap (Introduction to Semantics, Harvard 1942, 22) Davidson also argued that "giving the meaning of a sentence" was equivalent to stating its truth conditions, so stimulating the modern work on truth-conditional semantics. To sum up, he proposed that it must be possible to distinguish a finite number of distinct grammatical features of a language, and for each of them to explain its workings in such a way as to generate trivial (obviously correct) statements of the truth conditions of all the (infinitely many) sentences making use of that feature. Thus, a finite theory of meaning can be given for a natural language; the test of its correctness is that it would generate (if applied to the language in which it was formulated) all the sentences of the form "'p' is true if and only if p" ("'Snow is white' is true if and only if snow is white"). (They are called T-sentences: Davidson derives the idea from Alfred Tarski.)

    This work was originally delivered in his John Locke Lectures at Oxford and launched a large endeavor by many philosophers to develop Davidsonian semantical theories for natural language. Davidson himself contributed many details to such a theory, in essays on quotation, indirect discourse, and descriptions of action.

    As can be seen from the above, he was writing about language and its role in our ideas. As such, how he chose to formulate a point, including grammatically and the use of notation, will matter a great deal to his exposition. Since he is manifestly the expert in his own ideas, the role of an editor, someone who is not an equivalent expert, must be suspect.

    Although I don't hold the same theories he did or make the same points, language use matters to me, too. Still I am quite sure there are many whose input could have made my own work better. What I would not have found helpful, though, is a generic editor whose interest is not to explicate my thoughts but to adapt my writing to some pre-existing model based on stylistic and notational conventions, etc. Editors can be very helpful (and generally are). But they aren't always the solution to making a piece of writing better. Or clearer. 


  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius

    Although I know you are only interested in opinions that agree with you, I will reply anyway.


    Not long ago on this forum we had several discussions in which the necessity of editors was discussed and some heated sentiments were exchanged.

    Hardly heated, and the opinions 'against' you were all valid.

     It was argued by one or two here that editors are ALWAYS essential, that no one can be his or her own editor.

    In 99.9% of cases, it is true, especially for SP works.

     While I agree with that as a general rule (regarding both the value of editors and copy editors) I took the position that that is simply not true in an absolute sense. In particular I made the point that, for certain kinds of activities, editors are not really a help at all and might even prove a hindrance.

    And we said that's not true.

     The activity I had in mind specifically was writing philosophy (though this may well apply to any sort of writing, depending on the level of complexity and specialized knowledge that may be involved). The counterargument presented was that I was just refusing to acknowledge the obvious, that everyone needs an editor all the time.

    That was never what was said. You insisted that no one can edit philosophy, and at least myself gave you many links to specialists that do just that.

    I came across this YouTube clip last night of an interview with the well known academic philosopher Donald Davidson in which at about six minutes into the rather lengthy interview (6:40) he is asked by his interviewer whether editors help him in the writing of his material at all. His response (at 7:20) is no that he's never had any substantial help from an editor and that they often even get the grammatical stuff wrong (for the points he is trying to make).

    Most of his stuff are essays, that are not edited. The rest seems to be via university presses, that don't seem too fussy about what they publish.

    Grammar appears to be a matter of opinion. I have noticed that it can depend on the publishing house just how lax or rigid it is. Like actual English, its method of usage changes over time, also.

    He goes on to say (at the 8:35 marker) that there are "things that philosophers worry about, with respect to quotation marks, that other people don't or shouldn't."

    If he ever wrote that down, it would need an editor to make it make sense.

     In other words, the writing of philosophy (as is no doubt the case with some other kinds of writing, as well) requires a certain kind of expertise which,

    Yes, editors (and publishers) of philosophy ... which we have said to you a dozen times.

    in Donaldson's view (and I expect in the view of many another philosopher) is highly idiosyncratic to that philosopher.

    Perhaps he dislikes editors that attempt to make words make more sense? To make them more readable?

    While surely use of a copy editor/proofer can be a great tool (especially when we are tired or too close to the work)

    Step away from it then. As SPs we have no deadlines.

    -- as I have recently come to see -- and sophisticated philosophical-level input from an editor may also be a welcome assist, editorial support is not always de rigueur and may, at times, actually be unhelpful.

    That's contradictory is it not?

     In Donaldson's view, as in mine, there's good reason to prefer to avoid the ministrations of just any old editor or even the attentions of one with a level of philosophical sophistication  if he or she is not in sync with what you are trying to expound.

    Then find one who is. But one can often find arguments even just about moving a comma a few words.

    I know this runs against the orthodoxy preached here by certain posters.

    And almost every writer and advice site on line, also? Which again you have been given links to.

     But it bears remembering that not everything fits the same mold and that is true in literature as in life.

    What's that got to do with finding an editor?

    Here's the link to that Donaldson interview. The question about the value Donaldson has found in editors begins shortly after the 6:30 minute marker:

    I tried to listen. He's both boring and perhaps a bit 'odd.' Like most philosophers  :)  It's also a very old interview, it's also just one person's view, and a person who did not seem to actually publish much.

    I think you are still confusing editors who want to stamp their own personality on to a works, and those who don't. You also seem to be missing that in the Front Matter of almost all books, the writer's editor is being thanked.

  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius

    I only listened to Donaldson up to 10:00,

    I think I had it running for a while, but my mind phased  it out in to the background.

    but he seemed to not really understand what the role of an editor is or the purpose of having an editor.

    In common with the OP of this thread?

     And in making his claim that they only fight him on punctuation, he comes off as pompous.

    You got that too? But it does take a 'special'  kind of mind to believe that people wish to hear about their views on Life the Universe and Everything, and how it SHOULD be.

    The journal willing to publish his work requested a specific format (reasons are largely irrelevant, it's their publication)

    That is exactly right, as I insisted on, and returned work telling people, when I edited a magazine. And had it done to me when I wrote for many other magazines. But the hardest part was staying within a word count!

     and he felt the need to argue against it. Not for artistic reasons either, simply to be obstinate (it seems to me).

    Have you ever noticed how many books are only turned in to films, when the writer has died? (And I don't mean when the copyright has run out.) Often because the executer named on wills is not as fussy about how the story is changed, they just want the cash, not the 'artistic integrity' insisted on by the writer when alive.

     If there's a standard regarding quotations that the journal uses, let it rest. They're preparing his content for publication to their standards.

    Indeed, and it's that or not get published. Simple.

    From my perspective, Donaldson doesn't present much of an argument against editors. I don't write philosophy, so maybe I'm ill-suited to comment, but Donaldson seems to me like a navel-gazing twit more interested in pleasing himself than conveying ideas. If that's the case, self-publishing is great for him.

    Indeed, and I do believe a lot of his stuff, was.

    If he really did have a desire to convey his ideas, he presence of readers and editors would be welcome, as they would help make his work more accessible to a broader audience. I simply cannot agree with the idea that editing and reviewing of your writing ever detracts from the content. It is fair to receive editorial review and disagree with it. The content is yours and nothing requires that you agree with other's opinions. But to dismiss the value of a good editor is arrogance in my opinion. 

    I will not comment on arrogance ...   :)

  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius
    Anyhow, I am coming to the conclusion that swmirsky is a rigid  chatbot.
  • I can only second what Paul said. I would also suggest that neither swmirsky nor Donaldson appreciate the difference between an editor and a copy editor.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • On the one hand, "Navel-gazing twit" is a great line, and I wish I'd thought it up myself.

    On the other hand, there can exist times when specialization trumps normalization.

    And in general, the nice thing about Self-publishing is that we can publish our books as we best see fit.

    But, hey, how about them Dodgers, eh?
  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius

    On the one hand, "Navel-gazing twit" is a great line, and I wish I'd thought it up myself.

    Maybe twit was a typo?

  • Skoob_ym said:

    And in general, the nice thing about Self-publishing is that we can publish our books as we best see fit.

    I’m not so sure about that being such a good thing.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • That is to say, it is good that we need not come to a consensus.

    On the other hand, I see your point regarding those who lack the perception to recognize the relative quality of the work they produce.
  • Skoob_ym said:
    On the one hand, "Navel-gazing twit" is a great line, and I wish I'd thought it up myself.

    On the other hand, there can exist times when specialization trumps normalization.
    You're welcome to use it. 

    And I agree that specialization can and should trump normalization in specific cases.

    swmirsky said:
    Correcting a philosopher's English is not like correcting a writer's English (at least not exactly unless the writer is, say, a James Joyce or Marcel Proust or some other great experimenter with language!) because the philosopher may have chosen (for better or worse) a particular locution to make a certain point essential to his or her exposition.

    I definitely agree that good writing should be clear (many philosophers aren't or don't recognize the need to be) and that editors (or any good reader) can and should flag unclarities and that that is a valuable contribution toward the successful completion of any written work. But many editors I've known don't recognize the limits on editing which a discipline like philosophy imposes. A philosophically unsophisticated editor can make a hash out of the work he or she is asked to edit.

    There's a fair point. There may be stylistic reasons and intent behind certain changes to normal language. I think the complaint I have about Donaldson and the idea that editors are a hinderance in general is your statement "...many editors I've known don't recognize the limits on editing which a discipline like philosophy imposes." This might be the case if you hire an editor who specializes in erotica to edit your work of philosophy. In that case, I hold the author a fault; either for hiring the wrong editor for the job or submitting for publication to a publisher who does not align with the author's intent.

    But any editor who is worth their fee works with the author to make the piece more understandable and clear. There is not one legitimate, honest editor in this world who picks up a manuscript with the intent to stifle or diminish the work. And Donaldson seems to think this is the case, leading to my sense that he is more obstinate and pompous than interested in crafting and sharing his view of the world or language or whatever topic he might be philosophizing about. 

    Yes, editing a work with specialized uses of language may present a challenge to the editor, but that in no way diminishes the value an editor brings to a piece. 

  • swmirskyswmirsky Creator
    edited October 16
    Paul wrote:

    ". . .  any editor who is worth their fee works with the author to make the piece more understandable and clear. There is not one legitimate, honest editor in this world who picks up a manuscript with the intent to stifle or diminish the work. And Donaldson seems to think this is the case, leading to my sense that he is more obstinate and pompous than interested in crafting and sharing his view of the world or language or whatever topic he might be philosophizing about."

     Yes, I agree that editors can address a wide range of material depending on skills level and expertise (knowledge of the subject matter). The point I was making wasn't that editors bring no value to the table but, rather, that the value varies with both the editor's capacities and the subject matter. In the case of philosophical writing, as in some other fields, expertise is more important than skills level. Especially in philosophy, because much of what is written hinges on how it is written. While there are many ways a thing can be written or said, an idea conveyed, the manner of conveyance is especially important in a field like philosophy and, if the writer is attempting to break new ground or say something in a new way, no one knows better than he or she how that should be done.

    Yes, it is important for writers to say things clearly and even writers of philosophy can screw that up. And they may not always be the best judges of whether they have been clear enough. That's why there's peer review though in many cases it is more informal than formal -- see Davidson's reference to when he had sought feedback from colleagues but rarely got it until long after publication. If getting feedback from colleagues in the field was tough for a man of Davidson's stature, how much more so for a self-publishing writer outside the professional milieu (like me)? But, again, feedback is not editing which one can obtain through one's publisher although, if one is writing philosophy, such editing is generally confined strictly to typos and other miscues in the expository domain.

    Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote his first book, and the only one published in his lifetime, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, while in the trenches of World War I, finishing it up as a POW in the custody of the Italian army. It was published exactly as he wrote it, albeit with an introduction by Bertrand Russell (which Wittgenstein later said got the book's point all wrong, but that's another story). It was first published in German (either in Germany or what was left of Austria after World War I -- I don't exactly recall) and then republished in English.

    No one presumed to meddle with his work because, as the Cambridge philosopher G. E. Moore later said, it was a work of genius though acknowledging to the appointments committee that he, himself, could not understand it. Obviously an extreme case here because few ever write works of genius and certainly in our modern era where there is a whole philosophical industry few are expected to. (Wittgenstein got his appointment to Cambridge on the strength of that first book and Moore's assessment of it though he never had a a formal philosophical education!) Nowadays we have an institutionalized academic publishing system, spread across our universities and including various commercial publishing houses who cater to the academic milieu in various fields. And so there are standards and professionals who enforce those standards. Likely Wittgenstein could not have gotten the Tractatus published in our time (though I believe he actually funded its initial publication in German himself, being a scion of one of the wealthiest families in Europe at the time). That book went on to become the focus of a whole new philosophical movement, so-called logical positivism as practiced by philosophers in the so-called Vienna Circle. It also had an inordinate influence on Anglo philosophy in the 1930s. (His later, posthumously published, work, Philosophical Investigations, influenced philosophy in the Anglophone world in the 1950s and 60s and laid the groundwork for the likes of Davidson and many others in our time.)

    The odds are that without self-funding, the Tractatus would never have been published and without Russell's foreword it wouldn't have been republished in English. His later work did not have that problem because of his reputation from his work in Cambridge in the '30s. But the point is that his work, both the first and the later efforts, was always idiosyncratic in style as well as substance. He is a paradigm case (though hardly the only one) for why philosophical writing is not necessarily amenable to the traditional editing we look to in other forms of written material. Davidson's comments show us why that matters. (By the way, Wittgenstein's later works were all heavily edited, by the trustees of his estate because he left his work in manuscript and note form and to this day there are disputes about the adequacy of the editing -- did they get him right, leave out too much, include too much, fail to distinguish between his finished thoughts and thoughts in progress, etc.?) 

    I know there isn't much hope I can convince some here that editing isn't the be-all and end-all of publishing. Indeed, I happen to agree in general that editing is pretty important. But that doesn't warrant the kind of no-exceptions enthusiasm I've seen expressed here repeatedly. As Bishop Butler once wrote, everything is what it is and not another thing, which, once we get past the obvious triteness of the point can be seen to mean that we have to take everything on its particular terms. Editing has great value for fiction and memoirs and historical narratives but only more limited value (and sometimes none at all) for certain kinds of writing, e.g., the philosophical.

    Now before this makes me the target of Kevin's slings again, let me add that I do not think editing is of no value, especially for me. I am just a tyro in the field, certainly no Wittgenstein or even a Davidson. But, to reiterate a point I've made repeatedly before, just any editor won't do. When one is writing in an idiosyncratic mode (as most philosophy will be) one needs readers (including editors) who enter into that mode. The point of good writing, philosophical or otherwise, is to create an avenue to draw in such readers and give them access but sometimes only the writer himself is in a position to do that. Yes, I would be grateful for feedback as to clarity or style and, even more, for substance. But that isn't something one can be assured of when hiring a professional "off-the-shelf" editor. So for people like me, with the kind of project I have chosen to pursue, the best bet is to go it alone and hope I get it right. 
  • swmirskyswmirsky Creator
    edited October 16
    This is why I think Kevin's input is so often more confrontational and unhelpful than constructive:

    I wrote:

    "It was argued by one or two here that editors are ALWAYS essential, that no one can be his or her own editor."

    To which Kevin replied:

    In 99.9% of cases, it is true, especially for SP works.

    I added:

    "While I agree with that as a general rule (regarding both the value of editors and copy editors) I took the position that that is simply not true in an absolute sense. In particular I made the point that, for certain kinds of activities, editors are not really a help at all and might even prove a hindrance."

    And Kevin replied to that:

    And we said that's not true.

    Note that, in the first comment, Kevin makes a blanket assertion ("99.9% of cases")  that is unsupported by anything other than his declaration and has the effect of being virtually 100% of cases which essentially reflects a total denial of what I had said, even though I repeatedly made the point that I recognized the value of editing in a great many cases including in a limited way for most philosophical endeavors.

    Then he follows that with his "And we said that's not true." But that is just to reassert what he'd previously said. Reassertion is not a reason to believe the initial assertion. No rational value is added to what came before. It's not, that is, additive to his case.

    As further evidence that Kevin simply doesn't pay attention to what is being said, when I go on to write:

    "[while] sophisticated philosophical-level input from an editor may also be a welcome assist, editorial support is not always de rigueur and may, at times, actually be unhelpful." 

    He replies: That's contradictory is it not? 

    Well of course it's not! It's called a caveat, i.e., I was making a general claim but sketching out some exceptions.

    When I wrote:

    "I know this runs against the orthodoxy preached here by certain posters."

    Kevin responds: And almost every writer and advice site on line, also? Which again you have been given links to.

    As if the majority or even a near consensus opinion makes any difference in a case like this where we are talking about exceptions! Or as if giving links is evidence that it does! Do we take a poll to find out what is true, correct, right? Or do we look to facts and the standards we recognize as successful for us before? 

    Anyway, I won't belabor this further. There's a way to discuss, to argue one's case, but Kevin's approach of making grand generalizations, condescension and disregard of what's actually been said is not that way.

  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    edited October 16
    Paul_Lulu said:
    But any editor who is worth their fee works with the author to make the piece more understandable and clear. There is not one legitimate, honest editor in this world who picks up a manuscript with the intent to stifle or diminish the work. And Donaldson seems to think this is the case, leading to my sense that he is more obstinate and pompous than interested in crafting and sharing his view of the world or language or whatever topic he might be philosophizing about. 

    Yes, editing a work with specialized uses of language may present a challenge to the editor, but that in no way diminishes the value an editor brings to a piece. 

    Well put! Especially where you say "There is not one legitimate, honest editor in this world who picks up a manuscript with the intent to stifle or diminish the work."

    I have worked with a great many professional editors and every one of them, without exception, has dedicated themselves to making my book as good as it could possibly be. That is their job.

    Admittedly, there are those authors who are so convinced that their every word is immortally golden that to even suggest a change is abhorrent to them.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • I think some here are confusing the idea of writing to tell a story (whether fiction or non-fiction) with writing to unpack complex and confusing concepts in order to get clearer on how we understand our world. The former is editable to a much greater degree than the latter since the latter is a function of the idiosyncratic vision of the author in a way the former is not. 
  • swmirsky said:
    I think some here are confusing the idea of writing to tell a story (whether fiction or non-fiction) with writing to unpack complex and confusing concepts in order to get clearer on how we understand our world. The former is editable to a much greater degree than the latter since the latter is a function of the idiosyncratic vision of the author in a way the former is not. 
    I hate to seem dismissive, but I completely disagree with this statement. The idea that a story is somehow more "editable" than a philosophical work because the story is less a creation of the author's vision is just not true.

    Even then, I think this misconstrues the role of the editor. They are not seeking to make substantive changes to the content. They're helping the creator find ways to make the work easier and more inviting to read, to make sure it 'hangs together' well, and that it is concise and clear. In that way, any piece of writing can and should be edited.

    Now, I do understand that there is going to be some elements that defy an editor's natural instincts. And that a philosophical work that seeks to unpack the hows and whys of language will definitely break free of some 'normal' writing rules. But this is nothing a good editor can't work with. In fact, if I were presented such a work to edit, I think I would enjoy the challenge. Something different and interesting to dig into and understand, then look for ways to make more understandable and enticing. 
  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    edited October 16
    swmirsky said:
    I think some here are confusing the idea of writing to tell a story (whether fiction or non-fiction) with writing to unpack complex and confusing concepts in order to get clearer on how we understand our world. The former is editable to a much greater degree than the latter since the latter is a function of the idiosyncratic vision of the author in a way the former is not. 
    I, at least, am not making that confusion. I have had more than fifty non-fiction books published by traditional commercial publishers, all of which were professionally edited and all of which benefited greatly from the process. 

    In some cases a book has even been independently fact-checked by an expert reader---someone with special experience, training or education in the book's subject.

    From that experience, I would not hesitate saying that editing is a crucial step in the production of a non-fiction book, if for no other reason than that it is especially important that concepts, ideas and methods be explained clearly, logically and unambiguously. The more potentially "complex and confusing" a concept might be, the more important this editorial process becomes.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • swmirskyswmirsky Creator
    edited October 16
    Here's the key to what I wrote: "The former [fictional and nonfictional narratives] is editable to a much greater degree than the latter [works of philosophy aiming at proposing new ways of thinking about the world and our place in it] since the latter is a function of the idiosyncratic vision of the author in a way the former is not."  (clarifications added)

    This does not reject editing. It points out that traditional editing is more useful in some areas than in others. I have never suggested (nor did I mean to suggest) that editors have no value or invariably come to the job with an intent to rewrite or alter what a writer has written. My point is only that in some cases (e.g., philosophy and especially the technical variety) special skills are required which one is not likely to get from your ordinary editor and, in some cases, from almost anyone else but the writer him or herself.

    Of course, we should distinguish between types of editing as Ron Miller keeps insisting. I undertook an editing job some years back for an individual whose aged mother had survived the Holocaust and had a somewhat unusual story to tell about it. She and her agent brought me the manuscript and I read it but was reluctant to take it on. It was written in a fairly pedestrian way, even if the material was intrinsically interesting. I proposed doing a re-write but keeping as much of the original as I could. They rejected that on the grounds that my would-be employer (the daughter) wanted to keep the simple and rather naive words of her mother intact. I proposed beefing up the material by amplifying some of the potentially dramatic elements which her mother had failed to highlight. Also rejected. She said she wanted her mother's manuscript (which the old lady had written shortly after the events in the form of a message to her daughter and eventually buried in a closet until the daughter rediscovered it) turned into a book.

    In the event we agreed on a small fee and I agreed to do "light editing" which we defined as copy editing plus smoothing out the awkwardnesses in the text, of which there were many. So I fixed sentence structures, changed some words, made some of the transitions better and, of course, corrected spellings, typos and word choices. At the daughter's request I also wrote a little intro for the book. But I was still dissatisfied. The story was, indeed, interesting, even a tear jerker (there were times as I went through that manuscript that tears rolled down my cheeks). But it had very little dramatic quality though lots of potential. And it ended rather flatly. So I proposed to the daughter that we add something at the end to improve the power of the narrative. We agreed on two things. It turned out that she also possessed a handwritten parallel narrative from her aunt describing her own travails to survive and, because the daughter had less commitment to that story than to her mother's, she gave me a freer hand to rewrite it in a way I believed would be more powerful than the way it came to me. We also agreed that we would add an afterword to end the book and that it would be from the daughter who had found the manuscript (and who, as a small child, had also lived through those events).

    I gave the daughter the specifics of what I thought she needed to cover (what happened to the various individuals in the story after the war and what she, herself, recalled) and worked up her narrative, which she wrote to my specifications, to match the feel I had imparted to the aunt's narrative. Then I combined my foreword with the mother's repaired narrative and the aunt's story and the daughter's afterword to create the final manuscript. Although the core of the material remained rather flat, sandwiching it between those other sections (which I'd had a much freer hand with) helped beef up the overall effect of the final book. Sometime after it was published I learned from the daughter that the original manuscript wasn't really her mother's own words after all but the result of her mother's collaboration with a schoolteacher friend, so meddling with it might not have been so bad after all! (But the daughter had it in her mind that that was her mother's words and so she was never going to budge.)

    Why tell this story to you here? Because I want you to understand that I am neither unfamiliar with the exigencies of editing nor with the degrees of intrusion an editor can engage in. In terms of editing philosophical material, I have done a little of that, too, by challenging certain formulations employed by other writers in their work as well as more minor corrections of typos and structural errors in exposition. As a writer of philosophy myself I am also quite familiar with both the value one can get from a second pair of eyes on one's work and with the difficulty of separating substantive involvement from mere copy editing work. Why don't I just go out and hire an editor for my new book then since I admit it could help? Because the chances of finding a sufficiently philosophically sophisticated reader who could distinguish between merely flagging and suggesting fixes to expositional problems on the one hand and more substantive involvement on the other is more trouble than it's worth. You can't just go to an editor-for-hire for this sort of thing and, more, proofing or editing for style isn't what I would be after in any event. My recent book is not a narrative intended to reach an audience at an emotional level a la that Holocaust memoir I alluded to.

    It deals with how we think about certain issues. And that is something that, as the writer, I am better equipped to handle on my own than nearly anyone else because they are my ideas I am explicating there not anyone else's.
  • What you did for your friend's mother's book is exactly what no professional editor would even dream of doing: taking it upon themselves to rewrite a book---even to the slightest degree. That is not editing and certainly not professional editing. So, yes, you are "unfamiliar with the exigencies of editing [and] with the degrees of intrusion an editor can engage in." I take it from what you wrote that you are familiar with such "degrees of intrusion" largely because you yourself committed them. "Meddling" was a perfect description of what you did.

    No professional editor would do such a thing. Editing a MS is one thing, rewriting is quite another.

    As I have said before, I have had 50+ non-fiction books published by houses ranging from Workman, Lerner, Smithsonian and Zenith to Franklin Watts, HarperCollins and Watkins. Not once, among all of the editors I have worked with, did one even so much as touch a single word of a MS.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • swmirskyswmirsky Creator
    edited October 16
    I take it from what you wrote that you are familiar with such "degrees of intrusion" largely because you yourself committed them. "Meddling" was a perfect description of what you did. -- Ron Miller

    What a ridiculous thing to say, as if editing were only one sort of thing. Have you never heard of how Maxwell Perkins took a cleaver to Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel or You Can't Go Home Again? Or how he took apart the original manuscript of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby before publication (only belatedly published in the original as Trimalchio which was one of the sources for the recent film with Leonardo Di Cario The Great Gatsby)? Many an editor has engaged in far more extensive work than your notion of editing suggests. In fact, editing is not a simply defined affair. It can run the gamut from mere corrections of errors and inconsistencies or linguistic awkwardness to deep involvement in the preparation and refinement of a finished work, with lots of degrees of involvement in between. Where there is an active author to work with the editor can confine him or herself to making suggestions and flagging problems but when the author is no longer available to work with it often falls to an editor to do more.

    In the case I described the author was then in a facility in her late nineties. The manuscript had been written by her (and apparently a schoolteacher friend) back in the 1950s when she was still a young woman. The editing job I had taken on with that book was tailored to what was needed to make the book a readable and engrossing narrative. The rights holder, her agent and I went back and forth over a period of weeks stretching into months as to how I would proceed with the book since I believed it was poorly written. They came to me to make it well written (though the rights holder and I differed on what would count as that). In the event, I confined myself to cleaning up her mother's manuscript but we agreed to my proposal for how to finalize the book itself, i.e., by sandwiching it between three smaller narrative pieces which linked back to her mother's tale as the book's core. Even though I was never satisfied with the basic material the decision to enhance it with those other three pieces turned out to be right because the book went on to sell remarkably well (since I was paid up front I have no part in the royalties, of course) and to garner mostly good reviews on amazon. The few bad reviews basically revolved around attacking the editor for not having done a better job to make the mother's narrative a better written piece! Alas, that redounds to me since I ultimately agreed to the terms the daughter and rights holder insisted on.

    In fact, just before publication of the book I had decided to separate myself from it and demanded my foreword and name be removed because the daughter had insisted on my removing a paragraph in the foreword which had acknowledged that the basic manuscript was not well written. I wanted that caveat included precisely to ward against the sort of criticism which ultimately arose on amazon. The rights holder went to her agent who contacted me and, after a long discussion, got me to agree to withdraw my objection and so my name remained as editor along with my foreword (absent the offending paragraph). Editing is a complex activity and you grossly oversimplify it when you try to reduce it to just the grunt work of making suggestions to authors.

    By the way, although that book now appears in several iterations on amazon, here is one of the links to the book (an older version I believe):

    https://www.amazon.com/Bitter-Freedom-Memoirs-Holocaust-Survivor/dp/1557791570/ref=pd_rhf_dp_p_img_11?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=896JZ5XV8MN2A637N71D

    (The rights holder has republished it a number of times -- even doing some additional "editing" of her own which unfortunately introduced several errors into the text that weren't there in my day!)
  • "Editing is the process of selecting and preparing writtenvisualaudible, and film media used to convey information. The editing process can involve correction, condensation, organization, and many other modifications performed with an intention of producing a correct, consistent, accurate and complete work.[1]"

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Editing
  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    edited October 16
    Oh, great. Now you’re resorting to Wikipedia definitions.

    I will at least give you credit for, hopefully, knowing that there are differences in the processes of editing film, books and audio.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • Ron MillerRon Miller Professor
    edited October 16
    swmirsky said:
     Where there is an active author to work with the editor can confine him or herself to making suggestions and flagging problems but when the author is no longer available to work with it often falls to an editor to do more.

    Well, of course, if the author is dead or incapacitated the role of an editor may take on a different set of responsibilities.

    You also wrote that editing "can run the gamut from mere corrections of errors and inconsistencies or linguistic awkwardness to deep involvement in the preparation and refinement of a finished work, with lots of degrees of involvement in between." This is, of course, not substantially different from what I have been saying all alone. The key word is "involvement." When a professional editor works with an author on improving and revising their book, the editor may make any number of suggestions but it is always up to the author to implement them if he agrees with the proposed changes. Any editor that would take it upon themselves to rewrite or revise a book on their own (unless, of course, the author is deceased or otherwise incapacitated) is not acting professionally. And yes, you can find examples of where exactly this thing has taken place...but that does not in any way invalidate what I have been saying, any more than an inept surgeon invalidates the practice of medicine. 
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • It is always possible, of course, to ferret out negative examples if one does enough digging around on the internet. But---and I hate to harp on this---what I have been stating is from more than fifty years of experience working with numerous traditional publishers and equally numerous professional editors. This is to say nothing of what I know from my association with those of my colleagues who are professional writers and their experiences. Frankly, if the best you can do to counter this is to trot out what you have found on Wikipedia, well, I suppose there really isn't much more I can say.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • swmirskyswmirsky Creator
    edited October 16
    Ron writes:

    You also wrote that editing "can run the gamut from mere corrections of errors and inconsistencies or linguistic awkwardness to deep involvement in the preparation and refinement of a finished work, with lots of degrees of involvement in between." This is, of course, not substantially different from what I have been saying all alone [sic].

    Err, yeah and it's not substantially different from what I have been saying all along either. So what's your problem?

    Ron adds:

    Frankly, if the best you can do to counter this is to trot out what you have found on Wikipedia, well, I suppose there really isn't much more I can say.

    My dear fellow, I have hardly been relying on wikipedia to make my points here (or in prior threads for that matter, i.e., see my detailed references to the issues including my own past involvement in some). Often enough, of course, wikipedia or some other online source (e.g., YouTube, amazon.com) provides the quickest way to demonstrate what one wishes to say. It's a lot easier than citing off-line sources and waiting for others to do the legwork to look them up and check the reference (If they even bother). Online links make that sort of stuff unnecessary in this day and age and so speed up the debate.

    As to your past experience, I'm gratified to learn of your "fifty years . . . working with traditional publishers" and readily acknowledge you've got me beat on that score --  by a country mile, in fact. I spent my working years as a bureaucrat (working for and, later, running various governmental offices). Writing wasn't something I needed to do (there were plenty of staffers for that though, since I generally wrote better than most, I tended to write my own stuff including reports as well as memos and other correspondence). My experience writing for remuneration did not come until after retirement so I readily concede the experience metric to you. However, this isn't about how much time each of us has logged in the relevant fields but which one of us is making the best case. It's clear you think you are (and nothing I can say is likely to disabuse you of that notion) but what we believe about what we're saying doesn't matter except to us. Facts are still facts, the world is still what it is, whatever any of us thinks it is.

    Now you know something of my background and I know something of yours. Meanwhile the issues remain:

    1) Does everyone always need an editor because no one can do that sort of thing for him or herself? (You say yes, I say no.)

    2) Do philosophy and similar technical disciplines constitute special cases where editing is concerned? (You say no, I say yes.)

    3) Does my experience doing editing and in the writing field qualify me to draw conclusions which run contrary to yours? (You say no, I say yes.)

    4) Is it the case that "neither swmirsky nor Donaldson appreciate the difference between an editor and a copy editor" as per your assertion above?. (You say yes, I say no -- nor, for that matter, do I think Davidson a "navel gazing twit" just because he has the confidence in his own work to consider it beyond the scope of the average editor to second guess him . . . although he could. certainly be wrong about the quality of his own work and he most assuredly is tiresome to listen to if one is not interested in or conversant with the issues he made his career addressing.)

    So it seems this thread has turned out to be just as contentious as some of the earlier ones. Quelle surprise. I suppose the only way to have avoided that would have been for me to forego posting it and/or to acknowledge how right you and Kevin are when you suggest I don't know what I'm talking about, eh?

    Up thread, by the way, Kevin makes an amusing reference to my "arrogance" (the smiley face he attaches doesn't ameliorate the comment, by the way) and then proceeds to call me a "rigid chatbot" in his very next post. More, according to you, I am merely surfing the Internet to cherry pick contrary evidence to counter your more substantive claims!

    If the arrogance Kevin ascribes to me above consists of not simply knuckling under to the assertions of those who profess to know better and refuse to consider evidence to the contrary, then I accept the appellation.

    But I respectfully suggest that he has misused that term.
  • By the way, if you don't like wikipedia as a source, it's not perfect -- I can say that from direct experience writing a few articles there -- here is another:

    https://www.writing.ie/resources/what-is-editing/
  • Or this: http://www.editorsqld.com/cms/details.asp?ID=167

    Editing involves carefully reviewing material before it is published, and suggesting or making changes to correct and improve it.
    Three aspects, or levels, of editing are generally recognised – substantive editing, copyediting and proofreading.

    • Substantive editing (including, and sometimes called, structural editing) is assessing and shaping material to improve its organisation and content. It is editing to clarify meaning, improve flow and smooth language.
    • Copyediting is editing to ensure correctness, consistency, accuracy and completeness.
    • Proofreading is examining material after layout to correct errors in textual and visual elements.

    Australian Standards for Editing Practice, second edition,
    Institute of Professional Editors.

  • As I said, quote from the web all you like (and evidently you will). All I have to counter that is five decades of personal, professional experience.

    I will let the readers of this thread decide which is most relevant.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
  • 1) Does everyone always need an editor because no one can do that sort of thing for him or herself? (You say yes, I say no.)

    Well, I do have a lot more evidence in favor of my argument than you have proposed.The lack of objectivity alone is impediment enough. 

    2) Do philosophy and similar technical disciplines constitute special cases where editing is concerned? (You say no, I say yes.)

    Again, you argue from a position that is entirely subjective. There are hundreds if not thousands of special interests, philosophy among them. None are exempt from the benefits of an experienced, knowledgeable, objective editor.

    3) Does my experience doing editing and in the writing field qualify me to draw conclusions which run contrary to yours? (You say no, I say yes.)

    Your editing "experience," from your own description, was far less than professional, as I pointed out...indeed, it would appear to have been pretty your only experience. At least it is the only one I recall you having described. Am I mistaken in thinking that you have never actually worked professionally as an editor? I have on occasion edited a book or MS but would never use that limited experience to label myself an "editor." As for writing, I have no idea what your published bibliography consists of. Perhaps you might care to share that?

    4) Is it the case that "neither swmirsky nor Donaldson appreciate the difference between an editor and a copy editor" as per your assertion above?. (You say yes, I say no -- nor, for that matter, do I think Davidson a "navel gazing twit" just because he has the confidence in his own work to consider it beyond the scope of the average editor to second guess him . . . although he could. certainly be wrong about the quality of his own work and he most assuredly is tiresome to listen to if one is not interested in or conversant with the issues he made his career addressing.)

    I suggested that neither of you knew the difference between the two basic forms of editing because of the way both of you seemed to conflate them. And the fact that Donaldson seems to think that his work is "beyond the scope of the average editor" is pretty much a sure sign that he may be overestimating himself. (Simply because someone has made a career addressing a topic doesn't earn them any special respect. Edgar Cayce spend his entire life predicting that Atlantis would rise from the Atlantic at any moment.) Even if not, then all he needs is an above average editor. That's what a good publisher provides.
    __________________________________________
    Black Cat Studios http://www.black-cat-studios.com/
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