EDITING AND THE INTENTIONAL FALLACY
Studying English literature as an undergraduate, I was taught that considering a writer’s intentions in analyzing their writing wasn’t only a mistake. It was a logical fallacy important enough to have its own name—the intentional fallacy. During my MFA program in creative writing, I mentioned the intentional fallacy and got glared at.
“Forget the intentional fallacy and everything else you’ve learned,” my creative writing advisor told me after he stopped glaring. “For one thing, you’re not writing literature. And you’ll never write anything without intentions.”
He was right. Intentions are necessary. But if they were sufficient, I’d have a National Book Award in both fiction and non-fiction and at least three Edgar Awards.
You have to allow yourself to be surprised. By a character, who has her own intentions. By the sudden realization that what actually happened was something else entirely.
But after all those initial intentions, surprises, time, and a whole lot of work, you have to edit.
Editing gives the intentional fallacy a whole new meaning. Editing requires you, if not to ignore your own intentions, to ignore them enough to see past them to what you’ve actually written. It’s a lot harder than it sounds, since what you meant to write and what you think you’ve written keeps clouding your vision.
Once you believe your vision is clear and you’ve finally got the manuscript just right, it’s time to hire a professional editor. I’ve hired two.
The first one gave me one hugely helpful suggestion, for which I’m grateful. She also told me that my homeless man sub-plot came out of left field and needed to be cut, which may have been helpful if there had been a homeless man sub-plot, or maybe, possibly, if a homeless man or woman had meandered past one of the actual characters that populated the manuscript. I’m pretty sure it was an oversight, a simple failure to update a template. “Your [fill in the blank] sub-plot came out of left field and needs to be cut.”
It’s really important to find the right editor at the right time. If you go to an editor too soon, you may get one hugely helpful suggestion that goes something like, “maybe take this promising thing over here and start over.”
When your manuscript is actually ready to be professionally reviewed, hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to find an editor like Amie McCracken. If you are so lucky, you’ll get to see your work through the eyes of a knowledgeable and talented reader who is encountering it for the first time and, critically, has the distance from it that you still lack. Yes, you do still lack distance.
I discovered Amie through the Alliance for Independent Authors. ALLi has a vetted list of self-publishing resource providers.