At present I am reading an excellent book about self-editing for writers which contains many practical tips, techniques and examples (Browne & King: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, 2nd Edition). The book was recommended by a reader/writer who found it a valuable resource. I am glad he referred me to it as it is yielding some treasures for my editing and writing practices. But there are a couple of 'buts.’
I was disappointed Browne & King talk about some writers as “hacks;” the Oxford Concise definition of a hack is ‘a writer producing dull, unoriginal work.’ I picked up a sneering tone to their references to hack writers who apparently commit the dreadful sin, amongst others, of using adverbs in their writing. According to Browne & King, “When you use two words, a weak verb and an adverb, to do the work of one strong verb, you dilute your writing and rob it of its potential power.” (p.198) The two authors lay the blame heavily on the poor little adverb. I agree with them that it is better to choose a strong verb rather than combining a weak verb with a strong adverb. Having said that, I don’t personally mind the occasional ‘ly’ word in a piece of writing. The authors also object to the use of italics, “generations of hacks using italics to punch up otherwise weak dialogue.” They complain that italics in prose writing is “plain irritating.” One of my favourite authors, who was a professor at Princeton University for decades, Joyce Carol Oates, uses italics liberally throughout her novels, sometimes in dialogue but more often when she wants to take the reader into another time, place or experience. It certainly doesn't irritate me.
In labelling some writers “hacks,” do Browne & King reveal their own insularity and bias? Do they show themselves up as editorial snobs? Yes, in my opinion, they do. Their world view is that some writers, the ones who win literary prizes, the ones who are lauded, the ones who are financially successful from their writing occupy a lofty position above other writers working on their craft. Somewhere near the bottom are those writers they disrespectfully call hacks. I find it puzzling that in a book on the topic of helping writers become authors Browne & King refer to some writers as hacks.
What have you observed? In the bubble of editors, agents and publishers, have you encountered any snobbish, holier-than-thou attitudes?
Doing the write thing (and loving it!)
p.s. Do you know about our Free Trial Editing Offer?