But it never ends up that way, because those guys always end up with the authority. No longer are they there to help people out, they're there to tell them what to do, how to think, what's right and what's wrong.
It's not all their fault.
People like to have other people in authority over them. They like to have people tell them what to do so that, if (when) it goes wrong, they have someone else to blame. Besides, thinking is hard, so why not have someone else do it for you? Also, for instance, reading the Bible is a lot of hard work, so, if you can have someone else do that and just tell you what it says, why not? It certainly makes life a lot easier and more convenient.
So, ideally, you'd have people reading the Bible and going to a priest (or whomever) and saying, "I don't quite understand this; can you help me with it?" And the priest would say, "Well, because I have studied this stuff and based on these other texts, my interpretation of this is... Now, here are some other resources you can use to figure this out, because you shouldn't just take my word for it."
Instead, you have, "What does the Bible say?" And you get:
- The Bible says <group a> are all going to Hell in a handbasket.
- The Bible says <group b> are all going to Hell so fast that they don't even get a handbasket.
- The Bible says <group c> aren't even going to make it to Hell because God is going to strike them down here on Earth.
- The Bible says that if you wink your left eye while crooking your pinky you will also go to Hell.
- Or if you crack your egg on the small end. (How's that for a literary allusion?)
And, yeah, I picked a touchy subject, but it was the first thing that popped into my head, and, no, I am not going to go into my personal opinion (because it doesn't matter and isn't what we're talking about), and, yes, there are passages of scripture which support both sides of that argument. (Maybe, I should have chosen the death penalty as my example, but I think people could get just as riled over that.)
[I do know that it's not like this everywhere, but those other places are the exceptions, not the rule.]
At any rate, the point of the priesthood (and, yes, I do include politics and, even, science) in any religion should be to help people to understand things and come to their own conclusions, not just deliver the "Word of God" and expect people accept it blindly. Except that, like I said, people want to accept things blindly. It doesn't take so much work.
Which, in a roundabout way, brings us to editing and editors, the priesthood of the publishing industry. You know, because "no one can edit their own work. They're too close to it." Which is just like "common people shouldn't read the Bible. It's too confusing to them. Only the priests should read it and tell the people what it says." And before you accuse me of Catholic bashing again (which is not to say that I'm not bashing that idea), most religions promote that kind of thought. Sure, the Baptists want you to have your Bibles with you on Sunday so that you can open them up and read along with the pastor, but the pastor is actually going to tell you what that thing you just read means, and you don't have to worry your pretty little heads over it. And, sure, Bible studies are promoted... full of handy little guide books that will explain everything for you. Forget any other interpretation which may be possible.
So, yeah, I hate that whole "no one can edit their own work" thing. And I hate that publishers give editors greater power over the work than the author, the one that knows the work and what it's there to communicate. Or not communicate. Or whatever. There was a time when an editor was just someone that came alongside the author to help. "Hey, this may not be the correct word here." "This sentence is confusing; what did you mean?" "What happened to Billy? He just disappears after chapter four?" Editors were meant to help authors think about what they had written and make sure they were saying what they thought they were saying. And the grammar? The author was expected to know all of that, because why? He was the author and knowing how to write, the grammar and punctuation, was his job.
But, you know, if we can let the editors be the authority on grammar and whatnot, why should we bother to know that stuff? So we fail to be as knowledgeable as we could and, then, complain at what the "editors" (and publishers) did to our works. [Not that that is the case with all authors, but there are plenty of big name authors out there that take issue with the editing in their works, and there are plenty of "author's preferred editions" out there trying to overcome what the editor did.]
Here's the thing that complicates all of this: Many, probably most, authors out there do need an editor. Or three. And I don't just mean someone to catch typos, either; I mean someone that can help them make their stories readable. And I kind of have to wonder at that point, if that kind of editing is needed, if that person should be seeking publication at all. For instance, there's an article or something written by Lovecraft about all of the things a "novice author" needs to master before seeking publication; many of those things were grammar related (this is not that article, but it does summarize it and link to the original text) and almost all of them are things authors (or publishers) expect editors to do these days. And Lovecraft has not been the only author to to talk about how novice writers need to learn their stuff before trying to get published. Don't let the editor be the authority.
And I'm hearing, again, many of you saying, "But you're too close to your own writing." To that, I will respond with a quote from my wife (because she's smart that way (and we talk about this kind of stuff all the time)):
To that I would say: Then what did we spend all that time in high school and college to learn to write for? We had to self-edit our papers, theses, and so on. We had to learn structure, pay attention to spelling, provide references and all of that. Did we forget it all just because, maybe, we're writing fiction? Do we believe that editors (people who edit) just sprang from the womb able to do it, or is it something they maybe learned? It's like a priesthood.And, yes, that's what gave me the idea for the title of this one, because it is like a priesthood, and only the priests are allowed to edit. And that's just... foolish.
Of course, the key here in all of this is knowing your strengths and knowing where you need to get help. No matter what it has sounded like I've been saying in this post, I'm not advocating for people not to get editing help. Far from it. I wish more people would get better editors. What I am saying is that the idea that no one can edit their own work is fallacious. What I am saying is that authors shouldn't just give over authority of their own manuscripts to other people. What I am saying is that authors do their parts of the job and learn all the technical skills about writing as they can, because, to paraphrase Lovecraft, "Anyone can learn that stuff in school." The implication there is that if you don't know it, go back to school and learn it. Be able to approach an editor with, "I'm not sure about this part right here (whether it's a grammar question or a structure question); what do you think?" rather than, "Here's my manuscript; you do the rest." Know your stuff well enough to be able to tell editors, "No, what you're saying doesn't fit with my manuscript."
There was one point when Lovecraft was still starting out when he sent this:
"If the tale cannot be printed as it is written, down to the very last semicolon and comma, it must gracefully accept rejection. Excision by editors is probably the one reason why no living American author has any real prose style."I'm pretty sure no one these days would get published under any traditional model with that attitude, and it was already rare a century ago, but Lovecraft did get published and is still considered the master of his... field? Genre? Man, I don't even quite know what to call what he did, and I don't like the title "weird fiction" which is what I often see it being called. The point is that he became his own authority. Clearly, self-editing is possible. Tolkien often had to go back and re-edit his manuscripts because the editors, not being as skilled or as knowledgeable as him, would cause problems in his works. The first edition of The Hobbit doesn't have "dwarves" in it; it has "dwarfs," which is a completely different connotation, because the editor thought Tolkien had made a mistake and didn't bother to check with him about it. That was not the only time that happened in the early days of Tolkien's books being published.
Editors have no special gifts. They have not received divine inspiration. They are not magical. They do not know anything that any author cannot learn. Any author should learn. But, of course, if you don't bother to learn that stuff, I suppose an editor can seem like an all-knowing priest.