This was prompted by a rant I saw the other day over on fanficrants. (It's here, should you desire to read it.) If you'd rather not do the clicky-linky thing, here's the gist; a young fanfic writer was (rightly) upset by a beta reader who repeatedly missed self-imposed deadlines, and decided, as a result, not to use a beta again.
I am a criminally-slow editor/beta/proofreader myself, and I immediately winced in guilt at the story. I totally agree that slow mooks like me need slapping upside the haid for doing that to writers. Fair enough.
But ... that wasn't the major lesson this young writer seemed to have taken away from the incident. Instead, she said:
- that she no longer wanted to use a beta-reader, because she wanted to enjoy the immediate emotional gratification of posting the story;
- that having to wait for editing/proof-reading services took too long;
- and that writing as an amateur required fewer quality guidelines than writing as a professional.
By the time I read half-way through the rant, I was pressing my lips together like an angry mother, or an exasperated English teacher, but I said not a thing in the response thread, possibly because so many people agreed with the young person. If I had said something, however, I think it would have been something like this.
An amateur ... I do not think it means what you think it means.
I like the interpretation of "amateur" included here and here. As they suggest, the very idea of amateurs revolves around love. Amateurs are people who do things for pure love. (In that sense, by the by, nearly all professionals in any field are probably also amateurs, else they'd never have gotten good enough to become pros, neh? But I digress.)
If you're an amateur these days, like those amateurs of yore, you're doing it for the pure love of it. The pure love of it.
If you love something, you are going to treat it well, are you not? If you love your mother, your sister, your brother, your lover, your child, or your friend, you are going to try to treat them well, right? With respect?
Then, for the love of god, treat your stories with the same love and respect.
But ... but ... it's fanfic!
I know that.
Let me be clear. I know that. No, we don't have to wait forever to post our stories, and we shouldn't have to. No, we take no coin, Yes, we do it when we can, in our off hours (sorta. Mostly. Ahem.) Yes, we do it for fun. Yes, it's amateur writing in the modern sense.
But it should be amateur in the old sense. Because we love it.
Craftsmen and artists who love the things they build from wood, sculpt from marble, give birth to on canvas, or raise from the paper or pixel into life — they give their best to the effort, they give time to the effort. That's part of the joy of creation, which outstrips the immediate gratification of "posting it Right. Now." in the same way a hymn surpasses a TV ad jingle.
It's that simple. If you love what you are creating, you use the best materials and tools your mind and experience have to offer, whether that's in an intricately crafted multi-chapter epic, a challenge fic one-off, even in the creation of a plot-bunny attack crack drabble. Those materials include proper spelling, grasp and use of grammar, attention to your story and your characters, the whole nine yards.
If you love your stories, treat them with love. If you care about your characters, if you care about your plot, if you care about your themes, messages, imagery, if you care about the language you use, if you care about your goddamn spelling ... you take care of them. You don't trust your own eyes or your own heart too much. You look for a second set of eyes to see what you've created, or ears to hear it, or heart to feel it, or brain to analyze it. To use a medical analogy, you check your story's health. If you discover it's ailing, you look for ways to heal it.
Maybe it just needs a quick checkup. Maybe it needs someone to fix a sprained sentence, or help erase a plot bug or deal with a rash of characterization problems. Maybe you're at a crossroads with a story you love, and you're looking for someone to bounce ideas off as you decide which way to turn. That, too, is caring for the story.
You don't mind taking that little extra time to have the doctor or the nurse-practitioner or the specialist go over it, because you love it, and are proud of it, and want to make it just that much more healthy, that much more beautiful, that much more memorable. Because you're proud of it. Because you love it.
You ask for the help of an editor.
And of course there's always an exception to that rule. There will always be one song, one poem, one story, that works beautifully without someone else to help. I know that. I've written stories quickly, and I've posted quickly, sometimes without a proofreader or editor.
But — and here's where my elitism may rise to the surface, folks — I write for a living. Not nearly well enough, but enough to pay the mortgage and raise a family on it; I know the basics. So when I stupidly decide to post my fics without an editor's go-through, I can still be relatively certain that my work will pass grammatical muster at the very least.
But I don't do it often, and neither should you. Why?
It's not an editor's story. But it may be your disaster if you don't.
And when that happens — not if, when — you will have treated something that deserves love with flagrant and callous disrespect.
You'll be the worst kind of amateur.
*I prefer the term editor, because I'm old-fashioned. "Beta" has to do with code, while "Editor" has to do with words, and you will pardon me if I stick with that.
** Also, I posted this without the benefit of an editor. And I had to go back at least twice to fix things an editor would have caught. See what I mean?