I’ve confessed that I’m a bullshitter. Some people have questioned the wisdom of that choice. That’s because bullshit is, erroneously, seen as a term of abuse, as a quick way to dismiss that which we disagree with or to avoid the labour of digging through the dung to discover the truths buried under the meadow muffins.
It’s time to take a closer look at bullshit, its uses and abuses, and its functions in a writerly world. It may take a few shovel-loads to get through the pile, so keep checking in to observe the progress.
The problem is that decades after Harry Frankfurt set out to define what bullshit is (On Bullshit, 1986), we still do not have a clear understanding of bullshit. As Frankfurt noted back then, we employ it randomly, abusively.
For writers, this is a very real danger. People who live among words are especially prone to bullshit—the bad kind, the rhetorical smoke and mirrors that cover up our intent. We fall in love with our own words. They become precious and proliferate, turning into verbal diarrhoea if left unchecked.
There is a reason writing gurus talk about Shitty First Drafts. They’re rough and contain piles of useless dung. Yet any gardener will tell you that fresh dung can decompose and become manure—and manure is “good shit”. All it takes to create manure from dung is for someone to shovel the pile so that it remains aerated and can decompose properly. If you don’t, it turns into soup. Soup is not good shit. It’s manure that you’re after as a writer: material that will feed the soul.
This is where developmental editing comes in. A good developmental editor is a bullshit detector, a shoveller extraordinaire. When doing developmental work, an editor’s job is to aerate the excrement and to ensure that through all the rhetoric, the writer’s profundity shows. To separate the good shit from the bad shit.
Sometimes, editors cannot turn meadow muffins into manure. Then it is their duty to let you know that the shit has turned to soup, that it is simply diarhhoea. Your editor is not your friend. S/he is your bullshit detector.
In this era of Fake News, tightening editorial budgets at publishing houses, increased competition for manuscripts, and who knows what else, writers sure could use a hand finding the fertilizer in the shitpile.
Let your editor do the shovelling.