The Importance of Conscious Editing

The words that we use matter. Language holds incredible power, and harnessing it is a delicate process that requires hard work from both authors and editors. The fascinating thing about language is that it’s always changing and evolving alongside our societies, cultures, and ideologies. This is especially true of more sensitive (and powerful) language, like the kind we use to describe things like appearance, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. Choosing the right words and using them well can uplift, empower, and support even our most vulnerable communities, but using the wrong words can just as easily do them harm. With this in mind, it is imperative that editors educate themselves on the best practices of conscious editing.
Before we dive into conscious editing, let’s discuss conscious language. To put it simply, this is language that has been thoughtfully chosen with an eye toward how the writing will be perceived by readers from various backgrounds. Karen Yin, founder of the Conscious Style Guide, describes it as “kind, compassionate, mindful, empowering, respectful, and inclusive language.” Regardless of what kind of copy you are editing, it will only benefit you to ensure that the words are carefully chosen by the author with an eye toward the way readers will perceive and interpret them. If an author has not considered how their writing might affect different groups who may encounter their work, it is the editor’s job to bring it to their attention in a respectful, yet firm way.
How does one edit consciously? One of the first steps is to consider what harm a manuscript or piece of copy is capable of producing. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Does it contain language, descriptions, or dialogue that reinforces racist, anti-fat, homophobic, or xenophobic ideas?
  • Does it rely on harmful stereotypes of a particular group to make a point?
  • If a person or group is portrayed in the piece, how will they feel when they read it?
  • How will those portrayals affect others’ views of these people?

During this step it is important to consider your implicit biases—especially if you are a white, able-bodied, cisgender editor. Step outside of yourself and think about how this writing might affect more vulnerable communities. If the piece has the potential to cause harm, let the author know. Harmful portrayals often find their way into an author’s work without their explicit intention, so explaining it to them and offering suggestions for revision is essential. If the author is aware that their piece might do harm and refuses to revise it, or if the author explicitly intends to do harm, reconsider whether you want to be part of the project at all.
The best way to edit consciously is to make it a standard practice within your work and continuously educate yourself on best practices using reputable resources. The Conscious Style Guide is an excellent starting point, as is the Diversity Style Guide. Overall, being a conscious editor involves being aware of how language changes over time and updating terminology appropriately, self-education of your own biases and how to combat them, and a willingness to use your work to support equity and social justice.

Person opening notebook on brown wooden table

How to Guide an Author to Read Poetry to Improve their Prose

In the developmental editing process, you might notice an author relying on similar images and words that are repeated every so often throughout the manuscript. As editors, we can facilitate and expand the growth of our authors’ prose through poetry to inspire fresh language and images. By encouraging the author to read poetry for specific craft skills and ideas, they can translate what the poets are doing to their prose writing, and add more diverse elements to their style. Some of the takeaways you can have your authors focus on include:
Rhythm and Sound
Rhythm and the sound of words are key aspects to poetry, but prose writers can utilize similar techniques to enliven their sentences. In her article for NY Book Editors, Tania Strauss says through your control of rhythm and pacing, “you can manipulate the speed at which the reader reads, emphasize certain thoughts and ideas over others, and even affect the reader’s perception of the narrator’s personality.” With new perspectives on syntax and structure, your author can play around with the variability of their sentences. They can choose to lull the readers with their rhythm or to pack a punch into their prose with a staccato sentence, among other techniques. This is a good aspect of poetry to have authors focus on if you feel that their sentences could be more diverse or if you feel the author could lean into their style more.
Compelling Images and Metaphors
Many poets do a great job of creating lines that captivate the reader’s imagination. If you feel like a scene could use another memorable image or two to really solidify it, you can have your authors focus on how poets create interesting images, as well as how they build complex metaphors. Often, the images to look for are those that don’t rely on what we are used to as readers. Exciting and vivid images will build more intrigue into the descriptions a writer employs, and they won’t rely on the same, rote language that’s been used plenty of times before.
Pivot points, turns of phrase, subversions, and strong word choices are all ways a writer can surprise their readers at the sentence level. In poetry, this often comes in the form of line breaks or an interesting word or two, but the prose writer can use these small moments to keep readers interested in what your author will say next because they have already shown they take care in their craft to write thought-provoking sentences.
These can be ways an author builds momentum over the span of the scene, chapter, or manuscript to carry the reader through the story. If you find yourself pulled by the narrative but the sentences could have more moments of subverting the reader’s expectations, this is a fun space to have authors think about.
I’ve only included a few ways poetry can help your author’s prose, but it’s safe to say that there are many more craft elements to glean from poetry. However, you don’t need to prescribe poetry simply because the manuscript could use some sort of a boost. The venture into poetry can help a writer throughout their lifetime, and this is a great time to dive into poetry with all of the excellent contemporary poets publishing incredible work.

Mindful Editing: Substance Abuse Sensitivity

Editors have a responsibility to be aware of the content they allow to reach readers. This is especially true when it comes to the language that is used to address mental illnesses, addiction, and disorders. The stigma that surrounds these sensitive topics is alarming. Recently, writers and editors have been more conscious of the language they use when discussing mental illnesses and disorders like alcoholism, but there is still substantial ground to be covered when it comes to modifying how we talk about substance abuse disorders. In particular, there is very little discussion about how to respect the language around drug addiction. The disregard for language concerning drug addiction is shocking, as improper language can alienate an entire audience that often goes unrecognized. This can damage an editor, writer, and reader alike.

Right now there are two helpful guides that provide writers and editors with the proper information they need when it comes to writing about mental illness and substance abuse disorders. One website, the Conscious Style Guide, has various categories that are covered. These range from how to address the language about racism, age, mental illness, disabilities, and more. This website does not, however, address drug addiction in particular. The Conscious Style Guide is pretty well-known among editors, so the lack of information about drug addiction language is alarming. To make up for this blunder, a new website called Addictionary® covers what language should be used in order to reduce the stigma around addiction. This website is far from perfect, as there are many things that must be addressed in order to fully reduce stigma, but it is a step in the right direction. Addictionary® even provides resources to recovery and further research on the issue of addiction, continually aiding in the development of how language can be modified. The perception of drug abuse has been negative for a long time. Substance abuse disorders have only recently become a major issue to the public because of the rising awareness of the opioid epidemic. It is because of this sudden awareness, though, that the improper use of language and treatment toward this affected community are creeping into the public eye.

Language is important to our everyday lives. While websites like Addictionary® and the Conscious Style Guide provide the tools for editors to be more conscious of their language when writing about substance abuse disorders, editors must make the first move to ensure that this language becomes more common in literature. Language can change the meaning of a book, journal, or blog in its entirety. Now is the time to employ proper language when it comes to discussing addiction and those affected by it. As language becomes more consistent in portrayal of substance abuse, there is a greater likelihood of individual opinions changing regarding the perception of drug use. Editors can start this movement, ultimately protecting the audience of a certain book, blog, or journal, as well as creating a newfound respect for language that addresses substance abuse disorders.

Overcoming Barriers: Poetry in Translation

On January 5, 2020, Parasite director Bong Joon Ho walked on the stage of the Golden Globes to accept the award for Best Foreign Language Film. During his acceptance speech, the Korean director sent a message to all Americans: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” His earnest commentary echoed across platforms, encouraging the American audience to reflect on its relationship with foreign artistic works.

Bong Joon Ho’s point about Americans’ attitudes toward foreign films made me think of their equally great diffidence and disinterest in foreign literary work. As an international student from Italy who grew up reading mostly translated work, I was shocked to learn about the statistics for translated work published in America. In fact, less than 3 percent of all the books published in English are translated from another language. Growing up reading translated literature, particularly poetry, has allowed me to learn about cultures radically different from mine, broadening my understanding of others’ experiences and ideas.

Translated poetry has the ability to create tight connections between two languages more than any other kind of translated literary work. In this post, I want to explore the dynamics of poetry in translation, drawing from the testimonies of working translators, and to hopefully inspire the Ooligan audience to trust the beauty of translated poetry, read more of it, and acknowledge its importance in our historically non-diverse Western publishing world.

When researching the causes behind Americans’ lack of interest in translated poetry, I often came across the notion that poetry is fundamentally “untranslatable.” The translation of sophisticated word interplays, evocative images, and culturally relevant language is feared to be inaccurate and deemed to lose beauty when transformed from one language to another.

Poet and award-winning literary translator Aaron Coleman disagrees with this common fear in an interview with NPR. According to Coleman, the process of translating poetry invites “new opportunities to parse, and thus meditate on, any lingual and cultural disparities.” A translated poem is, therefore, the result of a close relationship between the translator and the piece. This relationship transcends distances and cultural challenges, creating an equally powerful transformed product. The artistry of a poem’s author engages with the cultural, emotional, and linguistic mediation of the translator, who is committed to preserving its original voice, lexicon, and structure.

Poetry translation is a work of metamorphoses, where there is no space for literal translation, according to translator Edith Grossman. The intrinsic meaning and sounds of a poem are painted anew by the translator, who engages in an artistic transaction between languages. Not every single element of the piece can be transposed, but it’s instead rearranged to create something as close as possible to the original, and as brilliant.

Poetry in translation becomes especially important when looking at the colonizing efforts of the English language. The enforced erasure of native languages during colonialism helped establish English as the most accessible and international language. In an article published by the Poetry Translation Center, writer Lola Olufemi affirms that during colonial domination English served as a method of “reaffirming the intellectual and artistic superiority of western power.” The devaluing and erasure of languages has meant the silencing of the stories and voices of the colonized. Olufemi also asserts that poetry is one of the main mediums used by members of former colonies to express themselves and regain ownership of their language today. The translated poetry of authors in the Global South and in non-Western countries allows for the preservation of these targeted languages, while simultaneously disseminating art, ideas, and voices of those who have been systematically silenced.

Are you interested in reading more translated poetry? Check out Modern Poetry in Translation, a literary magazine founded in 1965 by Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort in an effort to “get poetry out from behind the Iron Curtain into a wider circulation in English and to benefit writers and the reading public in Britain and America by confronting them with good work from abroad,” or The Poetry Translation Center, which focuses on poetry from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

“You’re crazy” is Lazy: How Editors Can Most Authentically Portray Mental Illness in Fiction

The topic of mental health is one that has been more openly discussed in the media in recent years. While open dialogue around crucial issues is important to encourage, this increased exposure brings about new considerations and challenges, mainly about how we discuss mental health. Words have power, and the way fictional stories about mental health are told can have just as crucial of an impact on readers as facts presented in news outlets. Editors have the responsibility to put forth stories that promote a respectful and authentic perspective on mental health, and below are four practices they can implement to achieve this goal.

1. Create a house style guide about mental health language.

Editors and writers are given the opportunity to use language in such a way that encourages productive conversations about mental health. The Guardian’s style guide, which has a section specifically for mental health, lists words not to use, such as loony, maniac, nutter, etc. because they “stereotype and stigmatize.” The guide also advises moving away from language that paints the person as a victim, such as “suffering from” or “afflicted by.” Another example is the Buzzfeed style guide. They emphasize using “people-first” language (“a person with schizophrenia” vs. “a schizophrenic person”); understanding the difference between an emotion and a mental disorder (using “sad” vs. “depressed”); and they offer specific guidelines for articles that report on suicide, such as avoiding specification of the methods used and avoiding usage of the word “commit,” which can carry a criminal or negative moral connotation. If publishing houses employ a similar style guide, it encourages everyone to be on the same page about how to respectfully discuss issues and properly characterize a protagonist with a mental illness.

2. Hire Own Voices authors.

The term “Own Voices” was coined by YA author Corinne Duyvis, who hashtagged “#ownvoices” on Twitter in 2015. Own Voices authors are writers who share the same identity—race, ethnicity, gender, disability, etc.—as their protagonist. Lee & Low Books, an independent, minority-owned children’s book publisher, surveyed over thirteen thousand employees within thirty-five publishing companies and eight review journals in its first Diversity Baseline Survey in 2015. The data showed the publishing industry is overwhelmingly white, straight, and non-disabled, making it difficult for stories that aren’t mainstream by these standards to reach the collective consciousness of publishing companies. Adrianna Herrera, an Own Voices romance novelist, says, “That in and of itself is a problem, because it’s kind of the unwritten rule that queer stories don’t have a place in the general mainstream market or [sit] on the bookshelves next to the historicals.” As a queer person of color, she set out to write stories that reflected her own experience, and people who find themselves at a similar intersection of identity can relate to them. For an example of a publishing house that prioritizes Own Voices authors, check out Blue Crow Publishing.

3. Where Own Voices authors aren’t accessible, hire sensitivity readers.

Sensitivity readers serve as part fact-checker, part “cultural ambassador,” according to Slate journalist Katy Walman. Minority group members are hired by an author or a publishing house and are specifically tasked with identifying hurtful, inaccurate, or inappropriate depictions of that group. According to Marketwatch, 50.2 percent of Americans five years old or less are part of a minority ethnic group; they make up the first majority-minority generation in U.S. history. These statistics and the ever-growing presence of social media contribute to growing concerns for writers: an audience’s desire for more diverse representation that might be out of a given writer’s comfort zone or personal experience, and, if done incorrectly, can result in major bad press from the young, socially conscious online readers. Ooligan sought out sensitivity readers for a recent title, and the experience proved invaluable as a learning opportunity for those involved and for the editorial process overall.

4. Include helpline information at the end of relevant books.

Mind-wise Innovation, powered by a team of behavioral health professionals from Massachusetts who equip organizations to discuss mental health, detail the appropriate ways for media to tell the story of suicide, as well as offer tips. The first tip they share is to emphasize that suicide is preventable, and to include information on warning signs and how to talk to someone who may be at risk. They say, “Perhaps most importantly, include resources. This would include a number for a suicide hotline and maybe even local resources where someone could go to get help.” While these guidelines are suggested for traditional media outlets, they can also be effective in relevant books.

The meaning we attribute to words, the ways we view people unlike us, and the cultural norms we slip into as a collective society shape the way we perceive people and their circumstances. These are a few examples of many decisions editors and publishers can make that can help contribute to a healthier societal perception of mental illness.

What Happens In Between: Line Editing for Manuscripts

So it’s not a developmental edit?
No. It’s not. While developmental editing does look at language as a function of the entire manuscript, its primary focus is on larger structural functions of the story like timeline, pacing, character development, and authenticity. Developmental editing is taking a macroscopic look at the book, while line editing is applying a mesoscopic (middle or intermediate) lens to the content.

And it’s not a copyedit?
Nope again. Copyediting is the final microscopic lens of editing. Copyedits correct errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, fact-checking, word usage, and style. A copyedit wants consistency, and it seeks to eliminate glaring language errors that will distract readers and pull them out of the story.

What might a line edit look like?
There might be some elements of both developmental editing and copyediting involved in a line edit, especially because the goal of this type of edit is to upgrade the language for clarity. A reader will not achieve that blissful feeling of sinking into your text if it has glaring inconsistencies. So along the way, line editors will likely address any or all of the following elements:

  • Words or phrases that could be changed to enhance meaning
  • Suggestions for improving scene pacing
  • Redundancies from repeating the same information in different ways (you’d be surprised how often authors don’t trust their readers to retain important details)
  • Scenes with confusing or slow-paced action sequences
  • Bad transitions, especially between chapters
  • Shifts in tone and awkward phrasing
  • Bland or uninspired language
  • Confusing breaks in narrative
  • Overused or superfluous words and phrases
  • Run-on sentences
  • Opportunities to tighten up paragraphs or dialogue (especially by eliminating filler words like that, can, feel, and see)

Why is it important to know the difference?
You might be looking to hire a freelance editor for a manuscript, and they’ll likely be versed in a wide variety of editorial services. You need to know the right one to select for your manuscript and how to most effectively communicate your desires. Of course, any freelance editor worth their salt is going to help you select the right service from the get-go, but arming yourself with knowledge even before approaching a contract is highly suggested.

Or, if this is your first time stepping into the publishing world with a manuscript, folks are going to be using these terms to inform you of the next steps in their process. And once any type of editing is done, it’s up to the author to incorporate, apply, or revise. Some edits are much more time-consuming than others, and line editing falls into that middle territory. You’ll need to parse through all the individual edits, but it’s not nearly as complicated as a developmental edit. On the other hand, you likely won’t just be clicking “accept all” for all the spelling and punctuation errors to be magically fixed. You’ll want to investigate each line edit, and it might even require some work on your end.

The ultimate goal of a line edit is not only to elevate the manuscript, but also to improve the craft of the writer. A writer cannot address their tics if they can’t see them. They won’t know about the potential power of certain words or phrases until someone looks at their writing and points these things out. All editing seeks to improve a manuscript, but line editing in particular has the ability to have a long-lasting effect on writers themselves.

The Words We Trade: How Authors Handle Copyedits

The work of an editor, whether they are a developmental editor working directly with an author’s concepts or a copyeditor catching typos and malaprops, is never simple. As the unofficial keepers of the language in which they edit, they have more than just style guides and editors in chief to answer to on any given project. Editors must consider and balance the feelings of two groups of people when suggesting language changes: firstly, they must consider how the reader will react to the language of the original manuscript; and secondly, they must consider how the author will respond to the suggested edits.

One issue that editors and authors may encounter when communicating about editorial changes is the difference between “apologetic” and “authoritative” language. According to Ashley Nilson in her Transmit Culture lecture, “Sorry, Not Sorry: Using Language to Maintain Authority,” apologetic language is when one uses words that minimize their stance in order to appease whomever they’re speaking to. An editor, for instance, may weaken their suggested edits by prefacing them with phrases like “Sorry, but could you…” or “I just think it might be better if…” This might convince an author that these suggestions could be ignored. By the same token, an author might revise a word singled out for editing with their own version of apologetic language: sterilizing their authorial voice. This is most likely to happen after a sensitivity read, when an author who is unsure of how to make their prose “politically correct” chooses to use undescriptive and generic language in the hopes of averting future edits. However, it is possible to delve too deep into authoritative language as well: an editor who is too aggressive in demanding that a word be omitted or replaced may alienate an author to the point where they latch onto that word or even pick a more inflammatory substitution in retaliation. Clearly, a balance must be struck between authoritative and apologetic communication between author and editor.

Good communication begets good communication: an author and editor who communicate early in the developmental process are more likely to accept one another’s input down the line. Therefore, setting the tone of the editing process with a consultation meeting is an excellent way to get a feel for the author’s voice and what kind of audience they intend to write to. In addition, constructive criticism can be active, rather than purely apologetic or purely authoritative: giving two to three suggested substitutions for a given word can make an author more receptive to the revision than they would be if they were merely told that the original word was problematic. This is especially true if the suggested edits capture the voice of the author as well as—or better than—the original phrase. Finally, an editor can stand to take one final piece of advice from Nilson’s lecture: instead of prefacing their individual edits with “I’m sorry,” an editor can make liberal use of the phrase “thank you” in their editorial note. They can say “thank you for presenting me with this manuscript,” “thank you for working with me to make this manuscript the best it can be,” and most importantly, “thank you for trusting me with your art.” Phrases like these can make the editing process go more smoothly, all with minimal page space.

Where Are All the Translated Books?

Translation is a complicated art. Anyone who’s studied a foreign language or taken a handful of linguistics courses knows this: there is no one-to-one ratio of words and concepts, and cognates are not always perfect matches. The fact that English loves to borrow words and phrases from other languages (e.g., c’est la vie, wanderlust, karaoke) should be proof enough that languages don’t match up perfectly. So translation, particularly fiction translation, is a complicated undertaking.

For this reason, translation should not be done by only one person or by AI. As Tim Parks discussed in the New York Review of Books, translation is not always done well. If you speak the original language a translated book is printed in, you may find continuity errors brought about by issues with direct translation. For this reason, translation cannot be done by only one translator. Different translators will have different backgrounds with the source language and different ideas about how things should be conveyed in the target language.

If you want to avoid bias, you might wonder, What if AI did it? No human bias there. But with translation software, there’s a different kind of bias that appears: statistical bias. Translation software is complicated, and the field has grown quite a bit since it first began. Statistics isn’t the be-all and end-all of translation, since language is generative and more complicated than algorithms that calculate statistical likelihood. However, after the structural analysis has occurred, statistics does play a role. Translation software, at this point, uses the most likely cognate for a particular word, or the most likely equivalent for a short phrase. This is great for when you’re in a pinch and you need to learn how to ask where the bathroom is. It doesn’t do so well with ambiguity, figurative language, or slang, all of which may be found in a piece of fiction. Perhaps one day translation software will reach a point that allows for nuance, but for now, translation should be a collaborative effort in order for it to be done well.

Perhaps this is why so few translated novels are published in the US each year. Translation is complicated, expensive, and risky to publishers. Some have even said that Americans aren’t interested in reading translated works—for one thing, there are plenty of books being published locally, and for another, books from other countries may feel too alienating.

Additionally, out of the few translated works published annually, 40 percent come from just a handful of Eurpoean countries. There are thousands of authors’ voices from all around the world that American audiences are missing out on. On the bright side, small presses are contributing to a growing market for translated works. So if you feel like broadening your horizons and trying something new, go out and find a translated book to support small publishers.

Tips and Tricks for Improving Your Localization Editing Skills

To all you publishing students out there who want to use the editing skills you’ve acquired: consider a career in localization editing. In addition to performing the duties of a copyeditor, a localization editor ensures that a translated work, or a work written by a person whose native language is different from the language they have chosen to write in, can easily be understood by the audience. Communication across the world is at an all-time high, and it’s as important as ever that we have clear, concise writing to convey ideas. Good editors who localize text quickly and accurately are in demand, and if you want to add another set of skills to your resume, just follow the guidelines below.

  • Be Patient: This is just good advice for any type of editing you do, but it’s especially important in localization. In some situations you won’t have any contact with the author, and your boss will just send you a file with the following instruction: “fix.” But in some cases there will be a back-and-forth, and that’s when you’ll realize just how incredibly difficult it is to write in another language. As someone who once got 0 percent on a Spanish quiz (it was sixth grade, and no, I don’t want to talk about it), I can appreciate that not everyone is a polyglot. The writer whose work you’re editing is probably in the same position as you, just on the other side of the world: their boss told them to do something, and they’re doing the best they can.

  • Respect the Writing: It doesn’t matter if it’s an email, a poem, a user’s manual, or anything else—writing, in itself, is a deeply personal act, and editors must therefore demonstrate consideration and poise. Just because it’s not a novel doesn’t mean somebody didn’t work hard on it. Respect the writing.

  • Have a Clear Order of Operations: When you first receive a document, it may be tempting to do everything at once, especially if you’re asked to simply “edit” something. But you wouldn’t try to brush your teeth and floss at the same time, would you? I would recommend making three passes: the first to read, the second to rewrite sentences as needed, and the third to check for standard copyediting issues. This will allow you to give your undivided attention to each segment and will help prevent you from introducing errors.

  • Familiarize Yourself with Cultural Norms: If you’re editing text that comes from a certain region of the world, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with local colloquialisms, idioms, clichés, and syntax. While your spidey sense (which is, by the way, a horrible phrase to use when writing to a global audience) may be tingling as you encounter an oddly worded phrase, you should tread carefully. It’s more important to properly understand the meaning of the words, rather than the actual words themselves, and this can only happen through educating yourself. For example, a common Chinese insult is “shǎ dàn,” which translates to “stupid egg.” When said to a friend, this phrase can be taken in good humor; but when said to a stranger, it can provoke a fight. Now, a good translator would be familiar with China’s many egg-based insults and would change it to something like “foolish,” but in case this doesn’t happen, it’s your responsibility as the localization editor to catch it and make the change. Otherwise your audience might not understand the expression, in which case you would come across as a very stupid egg indeed.

If you follow these tips, you should set yourself up for success and ensure comprehension for your audience.

Poetic Communication: What it means for writers and editors

There is a narrative we tell ourselves about writing and writers that kills me. It is the myth that good writing, Literature (with the coveted capital l) is the stuff of mystery and magic, a spark of inspiration, that can not be taught. I say this with great love for my creative writing professors, who were all brilliant writers. But when they say great writing can’t be taught, I find myself refraining from calling bullshit.

Framing the writer as a conduit for the story or as someone who merely receives a spark of inspiration removes the creator from their creation. Why would you do that? Let me explain.

In my undergraduate years, I experienced a series of writer’s blocks because I felt that without that spark, I was not a writer. Even if I couldn’t create, in order to be a productive writing scholar, I began studying linguistics and philosophy. I wanted to understand Literature and how it was created. I had the opportunity to explore this topic in a Philosophy of Language course, and it has taken on a life of its own in both my scholarly and personal life. It is an obsession of mine that I wish to communicate in this post.

First, let’s talk about poetic communication and how it can help the communication between writers and editors.

Poetic communication is an intriguing branch of the philosophy of language because it involves the work of literary criticism, linguistic theory, and cultural studies. To define certain aspects of poetic communications, I will be quoting Roland Posner’s Rational Discourse and Poetic Communication.

Posner would definitely disagree with my findings that poetic communication plays an important role in Literature, as he sees Literature as the “secondary automatization” or “de-poetization” of poetry. Meaning poetic technique becomes a part of Literature after it has fallen from the pedestal of poetic communication and becomes “a mere element of literary style.”

To keep this brief, let’s focus on two features of poetic communication. Function one: “Poetic communication de-automatizes the recipient’s relation to society and reality.” In other words, Posner says poetry makes the reader aware of an action that would otherwise be automatic or unconscious. To use a literary term, poetry takes an otherwise tired convention and makes a new experience out of it, thus causing the reader to react to it. In doing this, we come to function two: “[Poetic communication] brings the recipient into contact with characteristics of reality which…usually remain hidden.” In creating a conscious experience out of an otherwise automatic action, the poet reveals a hidden aspect of reality. This hidden reality is the magic of poetry; it reveals our lives in a way that makes us conscious of the human experience. Their stories and their words are never automatic, but keep a reader checked into the story.

But what exactly does this mean for writers and editors?

Creating an original voice, going against the grain of convention, has little to do with the spark we have been told about in our writing workshops or by other successful authors. Rather, it is a conscious effort to know the rules and when to innovate. A young man pursuing his B.A. in writing told me the other day that he heard Stephen King say his ideas come from a spark. And even though I couldn’t verify King mentioning this with a quick Google search, the myth perpetuates itself.

So, to writers and editors alike, when you come across a tired metaphor, a line that goes past your eyes as swiftly as the scenery passing in a moving train, consider it. Consider what can be done to give it life, to give it consciousness. That is where the capital L can be found.

A final note to editors: we are the first readers of a writer’s story. It is important to identify and respond to moments of convention and innovation in a writer’s text. At times, writers will unknowingly use conventions or something they picked up while reading. When this happens, it’s important to explain the conventions so that writers can more effectively utilize them.

I will leave you now with a line from Mark Turner’s The Literary Mind: “Our core indispensable stories not only can be invented, they must be invented if we are to survive and have human lives.”