Most writers have one or two trusted readers-of-drafts, critical friends who are relied on to make suggestions and offer that gentle critique that we didn’t know we needed. And the closer we get to conventional publication, the more likely we are to find ourselves working with an editor who scrutinizes our text for errors, ambiguities, sloppiness and – horror of horrors – breaks with convention. With the publication of my essay on picnic and community, published using Bookleteer last month, I had the chance to reflect on the experience of ‘doing without’ an editor. It was stimulating but also a little scary.
In the summer of 2011, I needed to take a decision about finalising and publishing the work. Choosing Bookleteer presented me with a new option: it meant I could go all the way to publication without any editorial oversight.
Picnic was an unfunded project: no client, no defined audience, no expectations, no responsibilities. That may seem liberating but it also means no feedback, no reassurance, no confirmation. I kept the text to myself (apart from sharing it necessarily with my collaborator, the artist Gemma Orton) at the obvious risk of missing out on potentially valuable guidance, having mistakes spotted, and being seen as arrogant.
The key justification for me was that to submit to editorial control would have been a crass betrayal of one of the essay’s themes. The essay contrasts picnic with formal meals, it contrasts organisation with networking, and disorder with order, as a way of exploring our tendency to idealise community in structured, formal terms. I felt that by submitting to the convention of editing – a fundamentally conservative process – I would have contradicted that theme in a rather feeble way.
I was also aware that Picnic challenges people’s expectations, because it doesn’t fit easily into any recognised genre. An editor might have made valiant, corrosive efforts to turn it into this or that.
I don’t wish to imply that the editorial process is either redundant or pointless, but it may be that many writers come to be over-dependent on editors. Perhaps this is to do with perceived differences between non-fiction and fiction. Few musical composers or visual artists would expect to cede so much influence over what they do. On the whole, editing is a process for confirming convention and reinforcing norms, which may not always be what’s needed. By making the publication process realisable, it was Bookleteer that empowered me to remain consistent to the theme without compromise.