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News and Muse-ings. - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
News and Muse-ings.
The news, first. The moors were coolish and on occasion dampish, but (or, rather, therefore) lovely. After some period in the butts for driven shooting, my syndics and I, as we always do, devoted ourselves to walk-up shooting over dogs. It was a Glorious Twelfth, all told. I stopped after 36½ brace (not bad for this weather in this year in that place), because I really needn’t more to hang and the final day of the Test called. (BROADY! BELL! BRES!)

I and the Clumbers are now home, having now twice reaffirmed by experience that Stockport (Edgeley) remains the ugliest Category B station in the entirety of the UK railways system.

I have had occasion, of late – these are the musings – to think about criticism and editing.[The monster and the critics.]What is called ‘constructive criticism’ these days: exaggerated politeness, Californicating ‘yes, but’ rather than ‘no, no, no’ (footnote Mrs T, as she then was, God rest her), coaxing rather than taking up the blue pencil: is, I conclude, neither. This sort of thing is the death of prose, because it is the death of criticism.

Look here, damn it all. In this fandom, there are any number of talented people, be they writers or artists. I can say truthfully that of those with whose work I am acquainted, they are almost without exception more talented than am I. (There is a difference between talent and facility. GKC and Kipling possessed both. I possess only the latter.) I can also say that not a few should be better even than they are if they’d discipline. Talent without discipline goes nowhere at all, very swiftly.

I have had some brilliant editors – ‘betas’, to use a despicable term – even within fandom. Let me assure you: the better they have been, the less deference they have shown my MSS. And the less deference shown, the better the eventual work. The only result of ‘ladling the butter from adjacent tubs / Stubbs butters Freeman, Freeman butters Stubbs’, is an oleaginous and rancid mess. When I want a critique (preferably of pure reason), I expect, indeed I am entitled to, a no-holds-barred argument: unless the error or infelicity noted is inarguable, whereupon I fix the damned thing. I am the author; in the end, I prevail: but unless I am challenged to defend my choices, I have a very imperfect understanding of why something is or is not right, let alone defensible. Unfortunately for others, my own criticism, when sought, or expected by circumstance, is Kantian: I give what I demand to get.

It doesn’t go down terribly well, quite often.

This is, to me, mysterious. Why in buggery are people writing? ‘For fun’? All right; but in that case, why publish it? If you publish something, you are inviting people to read it. And you are inviting critical responses to it. (It is an ill omen that ‘critical’ now commonly means ‘carping’ in most minds, and is rejected accordingly.) If you must publish something, even for the amusement of your friends, and gratis, you have undertaken something that comes with a duty attached: a duty to your readers, if any. That duty is to write in the best English of which you are capable (and to see to it that it is the best English, by educating yourself if wanted), with the best characterisation, plotting, theme, pace, and all the rest. If, God forbid, you are co-writing, you have a further special duty to anyone whose name is also going to be on the damned thing, and who shall, as you shall, be judged by your and her or their weakest links: in which event it is your positive duty, without any consideration of persons or any refuge in hurt feelings and dramatics and waterworks, to give and get (and take, uncomplainingly) the most stringent possible criticism before foisting the bloody work on an innocent and confiding public. No, they mayn’t be paying you in £.s.d., but they are paying you the compliment of their time and attention in return for your work: time and attention they might otherwise have profited by: and you owe them in return the best work within your powers. And if you are writing as a gift for someone … well, need I labour the point?

It’s all very well saying that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. There are medicines the efficacy of which is vitiated by the addition of sucrose.

This, of course, is why I am increasingly known as savage and offensive, the fun-devouring killjoy, Wemyss the Dementor. This, of course, is why I am rarely asked to edit, and yet more rarely asked twice, and have lost a certain intimacy with some fellow writers (those not already driven away by the intolerable mismatch of my views and politics with their own, which are naturally perfect in every way).

On the other hand, it is why Bapton Books exists; and it is, however I myself fall not infrequently short of even a relative perfection, the essence of professionalism, to which we ought all, and are all obliged to, aspire.

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18 comments or Leave a comment
josephinestone From: josephinestone Date: August 15th, 2013 11:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
It is so odd to me that I agree with most everything you say, and then we fall counter to each other so often. I do not hold others to my standards when I work with them simply, because I know that I'm impossible to please. This is why I am not a beta, even though I now know as much or more than some of the people who helped me out with my stories in 2009. Though recently I have met talents through the fests that go beyond my expectations.

Personally, everything I write could be better. Which is why after four years of writing fan fiction I have nothing labelled finished except what I've written this year for fests. That deadline has forced me to stop rewriting my stories and get it in, which is what I'd hoped it would do. I desperately needed to learn to let go and learn something new on my next piece.

I'd love to have you for beta, if you were willing. You'll never know how well it will work out though, and I probably wouldn't know what you were saying some of the time.

Speaking of which, I need to get back to writing, checking my e-mail, and I've 100 pages of Jane Austen to read yet today.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 16th, 2013 11:39 am (UTC) (Link)

Fests, like the prospect of being hanged...

... concentrate the mind wonderfully.

When things settle down after the turn of the year, speak with me about editing if you then wish.
matilda36 From: matilda36 Date: August 16th, 2013 05:22 am (UTC) (Link)
I completely agree with you. The "I am writing for fun" excuse that some BNF are using is bad practice and bad example, especially when you are asking for donationsfor your site (I know writers who do it).

When editing I try to be honest, and honesty,I am sorry, sometimes is brutal.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 16th, 2013 11:48 am (UTC) (Link)

Money for old rope?

There are fen actually using that tired excuse for laziness and carelessness whilst actually asking money for it?

Sweet Christ. What impudence. What brass-necked arrogance.

It's remarkable how often an honest insistence upon standards, and thus upon, inter multos alia, honest if brutal editing, is somehow dismissed as 'arrogant' on the part of those upholding standards. It is those who think themselves above, or too important for, or beyond, standards and editing, who are arrogant.

There are occasions upon which BNFs are indistinguishable from the BNP.
From: tree_and_leaf Date: August 16th, 2013 08:07 am (UTC) (Link)
Savage and offensive? Quite possibly. Killjoy? Never.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 16th, 2013 11:53 am (UTC) (Link)

There's a 'curate's egg' jest in there somewhere.

And I'd been so looking forrards to the first performance of the newly discovered Holst movement from The Planets. 'Wemyss, Killer of Joys' is really rather catchy. Hummable.

And I'd had new cards printed, as well. Yet I must defer to yr judgement, naturally.
From: el_staplador Date: August 16th, 2013 02:01 pm (UTC) (Link)


Alla marcia.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 16th, 2013 02:29 pm (UTC) (Link)


... It's marked Grave misterioso.
germankitty From: germankitty Date: August 16th, 2013 05:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
(Quoting josephinestone, "I'd love to have you for beta, if you were willing."

Seconded -- pretty please?
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 16th, 2013 05:30 pm (UTC) (Link)

Certainly. Happy to aid.

Although not until 2014, please: I'm snowed under.
germankitty From: germankitty Date: August 16th, 2013 05:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Certainly. Happy to aid.

*smooches* No problem -- and thank you! Maybe by 2014 I'll even have a story to beta! ;-)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 16th, 2013 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

I look vy much forward to it.

With eager anticipation.
germankitty From: germankitty Date: August 16th, 2013 09:46 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I look vy much forward to it.

shezan From: shezan Date: August 16th, 2013 08:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Bring on MOAR of Wemyss The Dementor. It's the only way to edit, and be edited.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 16th, 2013 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)


... the succeeding post.

I am noticing, there particularly, a CP Snowy 'two cultures', in which journos and publishers and authors are all saying, 'Yes, quite!' and other fen are saying, 'You're being a trifle harsh, surely?'....
shezan From: shezan Date: August 16th, 2013 11:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Vide...

Whenever one of my new kids started complaining that we were touching their Sacred Copy, I told them of Graham Greene explaining that he had to go off to London as they were producing one of his plays, and he had to be there for the rehearsals. (It was in my 1987 Torygraph interview; he was 82 at the time). "Do you control the way it's staged?" I asked. "Oh, no, not at all; but when you write something there's always a moment when the actors find it difficult to say; I have to be at hand for the rewrites."
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 17th, 2013 09:31 am (UTC) (Link)

That'll l'arn 'em.

Or did it?
shezan From: shezan Date: August 17th, 2013 09:34 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: That'll l'arn 'em.

I don't have any evidence that it made a lasting impression, but it did shut them up for a bit....
18 comments or Leave a comment