We’re introducing you to people who are part of the Betterwrite world. Welcome to GWEN SCHWARZ.
Gwen, what’s your connection with Betterwrite?
I’m an Associate Editor with the Betterwrite team and have recently completed a development edit of a fiction manuscript about a Lebanese immigrant to the United States who was convicted of a crime he did not commit.
Tell us about your work.
I enjoy development editing, copy-editing and proofreading fiction and non-fiction, with a preference for editing fiction. I’m very familiar with the time and effort it takes to create words that seem to flow effortlessly, and I appreciate the opportunity to be a fresh pair of eyes for an author’s creation.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently looking at ways to expand my client base and to make my use of Microsoft Word more efficient. I’m also reviewing John Mullan’s informative book How Novels Work.
What do you like about your work?
From a broad perspective, I enjoy two aspects of my work: the high-level overview that is required for development editing, and the detailed approach that is needed for a good copy-edit. When I’m editing, I take a lot of satisfaction from being able to communicate changes that could help the words flow and take the reader into the world of the writer’s imagination, and a large part of this is knowing when there are either too many words or too few words. This is the art behind good writing and good editing.
I believe that a well-written book has the quality of being so engaging that the reader cannot put it down or does so only with a great deal of reluctance because the words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters have been chosen and organised with care.
Another aspect of my work that I enjoy is being able to collaborate with the author and to explain concepts such as theme or structure that the writer may not be familiar with. I appreciate the logic, research and organisation that contribute to a well-developed argument in non-fiction books, but I really enjoy and prefer becoming immersed in the world of well-written fiction.
What don’t you like?
I don’t enjoy the tedium of editing references.
Have you got a personal bugbear?
I’m resisting the popular trend toward using the plural pronouns they and their to refer to a singular antecedent. I realise that those words make things easier than using the his or her construction, but I’m not in favour of their usage.
What has pleased you in your work?
When I see a way for the author’s voice to be expressed in a more concise, clear and convincing way, I feel that I’m helping by explaining why a suggested change could improve his or her work. (As you can see, I resisted using their in that last sentence.) The author has the ultimate say, of course, but I’m happy to provide some guidance. I’m very pleased when an author confirms that my suggestion has helped to create a better story.
What didn’t please you?
My tendency to be a perfectionist can help in some areas; however, I need to know when the editing I’ve done is good enough and still maintains the author’s voice.
What amused you?
My tendency to take myself too seriously and go too far in my attempts to explain my editing decisions has created some interesting results. I once had a client thank me for my good intentions and then inform me that my thirty-five pages of feedback to an author were more than they needed. Sometimes less really is more.
Whose writing do you enjoy?
It’s difficult to pick one author. Dan Brown is very entertaining. Ian Fleming is great, and so is Arthur Hailey.
The Da Vinci Code.
What do you like about Dan Brown’s writing?
Dan Brown does extensive research before he writes his books, and uses that basis to form engaging, wonderful scenarios in the reader’s mind that are based on fact. I find his talent for combining science with spirituality intriguing, and his scepticism about spirituality makes the reader think while being entertained.
Give us a quote.
“Men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire” (The Da Vinci Code). I think some people look only at short-term gain and ignore long-term gain in many issues, such as climate change.
What’s your favourite word in English?
I use the word lovely a lot. It has a softness I like. I also like the rhythm of the word onomatopoeia. It amuses me that English has such a brainy-sounding word to define simple words such as buzz or hiss that were created to imitate those sounds.
Any other quotes that are special for you?
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart” (Helen Keller). I believe those same things are the meaningful experiences that endear people to us, and create memories that stay with us our entire lives.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I try to apply this principle in my editing work. Of course, I would have to question whether I should edit the grammar in this saying if I encountered it in a manuscript.
Apart from your work, what plans or ambitions have you got?
I would love to travel more and stay in one place long enough to transition from feeling like a tourist to feeling like I live there. My reading has included many classics, including Shakespeare, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi, and I’d like to read many more.
How will you do that?
This summer, my husband and I will be spending a month in Venice and a month in Paris, absorbing the culture in both places and trying our best to feel as if we live there permanently with great sight-seeing, good food and fabulous wine. I may bring some classic reading with me.
What have you learned about life?
Life always supports you with what you need at exactly the time that you need it, with a helpful book, a smile from a stranger, a job offer, or an uplifting message in a dream.
What have you learned about people?
The people who teach you the hardest lessons are often the least likeable!
Tell us something quirky about yourself.
I have been known to keep up our Christmas tree and Christmas cards until Easter in order to add some colour and brightness to our Canadian winter.
Finish with a story, true or false, with beginning, middle and end, up to 30, 60 or 120 words.
On our vacation in Rome several years ago, my husband and I joined the long line-ups to see the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. Our anticipation about seeing Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling amplified as we entered the room.
Mesmerised by the beauty and depth of the artist’s work, we became separated from each other amid the hundreds of jostling visitors. Putting aside my panic, I decided to return to our hotel.
Outside the Vatican, I met two priests, who gave me directions to the subway. As I walked around a hedge at the station entrance, I was filled with relief at the incredible coincidence of seeing my husband walk towards me from the other end of the hedge. (119)