Editing Blues

A writing teacher once told me, “All writing can be improved.”

That means editing and rewriting.  A process that strikes terror into the hearts of writers.  The many layers of this process can be an emotional nightmare for the sensitive writer.  It’s especially difficult if you don’t have confidence in your abilities, or have doubts about your work.

If you’ve read The Artist’s Way, you’ll have taken a number of steps to silence your inner critic and to just write.  This is a great thing for the first draft.  Move past the, “This won’t work,” and just get you ideas flowing.  Sadly, at some point you do need to take a critical eye at your work and polish it.

The question for me always gets down to, “How polished is polished enough?”  For my weekly blogs, I edit them, Heather edits them and I post them.  In woodworking terms this would be the “Satin” finish – intentionally not glossy.  Intentional, sightly dull.  It’s work saver as the result is intended to be, er dull.  Most of the time this is good enough as my audience here knows that and is willing to spend a little time reading something with a few rough edges.

And in any case, next week there will be another post, so if this one doesn’t work, maybe the next will.

However, there are things that deserve a high polish or that “Glossy” finish.  If you’ve ever tried this with wood finishes you’ll know how hard it is to get that varnish to shine bright without a single scratch.

Some writing deserves this level of editing polish.  My poetry is one piece of my writing that I feel needs this level of effort.  I have struggled over how to achieve that polish.  One question I really struggle with is, “Is this polished enough?”

As a writer I can become blind to my own mistakes and my own omissions.  There are poems in my collection that are meaningful to me and make perfect sense in my mind, but when read by someone else, are confusing and flawed.  There is no way for a writer to know when he’s failed to communicate, except by taking the words he’s crafted and giving them to others to read and comment on.

It’s easy for me to give someone a copy of my book, but to listen to what they have to say is difficult.  It’s far too easy to take a bit of criticism personally and feel I’ve failed.  The feedback often reinforces my basic insecurities and doubts or triggers that old feeling of rejection that can be soul crushing.

Still, the one thing I am sure of, is that to properly perfect a piece of writing I have to let it leave my hands and let others react to it.  I’ve been doing that with my book.  So far Heather has read through it twice and one trusted has friend read it.  Both have provided detailed notes and suggestions.  I’ve read through it again and again trying to see the defects and correct them.

A few of weeks ago I decided to send the work to a professional editor for copy editing, feedback and criticism.  I received the editor’s edits and notes this week.

Wow, what an eye opener.  I must have paid by the edit.  Few, if any lines are untouched.  Emotionally it could bring on an overwhelming feeling of failure and wanting to give up.

Except, that I know this is part of the process and when I can push my emotional reaction aside, I know that what I am being told will improve the work.  In the edits there are changes in punctuation, tense and other things I do badly.  In the notes, are comments questioning what a line means, pointing out redundancies, and even a note suggesting that a whole poem be deleted.

Now that I have this, it’s time again to revisit the words and see if I can improve on the story I am trying to tell.

Till next week,

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I worked in the high tech world doing software release engineering and am now retired. Then I got prostate cancer. Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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42 Responses to Editing Blues

  1. Editing has an important place, and the pros are a great asset to even the best writers. *However!*

    There is also a natural bias in everything we do, regardless of how dispassionate and logical and objective our intent; a writer who delights in arcane and baroque turns of phrase could be crushed, if not ruined, by a great editor who prizes spare, artfully clean prose, and vice versa. It’s a little too easy, sometimes *especially* for a pro, to go on autopilot and edit for style in a way that isn’t apropos, or a writer, no matter how skilled and experienced, to give in to the “right” way to do something that might have better remained slightly awry when it makes the point more surely.

    The bottom line, for me, is that high gloss, satin, matte, and even intentionally distressed finishes all have great value in art. The joy is in discovering which is the right place and moment for each.

    Happy writing *and* rewriting, Andrew!


  2. I had several people look at a novel I’m working on. When I thought it was polished and ready to go, one more person looked at it, a published novelist himself, and tore my chapter one to shreds. I should have been more insulted, but I was quite grateful and am now so fearful for how off the mark the rest of the book must be. I’m hoping he’ll have time to look at the rest and teach me the error of my ways. But it is so annoying to think you’ve edited it all you can, and then to have so many holes shot into it. Ugh.
    But we keep on keeping on!


  3. floridaborne says:

    I had several friends and 3 editors look at my first book (I’m a bit anal that way). People from the area I live in loved the book. People well outside the area (such as Canada) added another depth to their observations (For example, not knowing how people speak in Florida when Orlando and Kissimmee were still separate cities and Disney was a park in California and needed clarification). Once I was able to understand why a particular editor would suggest a particular change, it was easier to say, “I ain’t gonna touch that line!” 🙂

    Being 1/2 blind and dyslexic, I know well my limitations. The editor(s) I work with don’t just write squigglys on the page (I wouldn’t have a clue what they meant) but they’ll sit down with me, read the book out loud and we discuss the changes.

    After a while you’ll begin to see it from the vantage point of support instead of criticism or failure (changing grammar, spelling and punctuation where needed), taking advice regarding changes into consideration and understanding your voice so well that you know when the editorial advice needs to be ignored.

    Not everyone is going to like what we write, but if we’re not true to ourselves we won’t like what we write, either. 🙂


    • So far I’ve had detailed replies from three people. All have been supportive. There are a couple of poems I really liked that have serious problems. Sometimes it’s a bit difficult to hear that makes complete sense to me, doesn’t make sense to others. Well, that’s just part of the learning process.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. To learn is to write, and to write is to learn. Can I urge caution? Editors often overlook the essential elements which typify your style – your particular line of communication with your audience. They can shred the bejeezers out of a perfectly cogent piece in the name of ‘good’ literature, and I could comment on any number of talented, published writers who make appalling editors because they are simply blind to any style but their own.
    Alas I am not a poet: I have not that gift. So the only piece of wisdom I can pass on from a successful poet I once supported a bar with for a while is: ‘take time’. He maintained a good poem took six months to write. Maybe that’s why I don’t do it…


    • That is the challenge with others editing. It takes a strong writer to maintain his own voice in the work. I just hope I can measure up to that challenge. I’ve been working on this set of poems for a year now. They feel ready to be done, but you never know.


  5. artseafartsea says:

    Your dedication and hard work are an inspiration.


  6. JoHanna Massey says:

    Andrew: Know that poetry leans more towards artistic creation and so editing of it is not/should not be the same as the red pen cruelty often taken to novels, magazine articles, and news reporting. Along that same vein of thinking, ultimately you do get choose which editing suggestions to take, and which to discard. The final say on your book of poetry is yours to make .

    I am reminded of a quote by Flannery O’Connor
    (Insert ‘editing’ for ‘novel & fiction’)

    “Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which hair often falls out and teeth decay. I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it is very shocking to the system.”

    I thank you for being willing to share this step in your publishing experience with us.

    All my best to you Andrew.


    • Creating “art” is an interesting journey. The trick will be to look at each suggested edit and decide if that improves the work without changing my style or voice. However, most of the suggested edits are right on and a I’ll be using them. Sadly, it’s going to take some time to work through the whole list.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. dorannrule says:

    Don’t let anyone or any edits dissuade you from your goals. Your talent shines through.


  8. One day you may become your own editor, but that takes time. Meanwhile be wary of editors; they are often frustrated authors. Comparing writing to woodworking, I see writing as craft, and editing as also craft. But writing can also be art, and editing is not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Possibly, but that could take a long time. One friend who offered to edit for me said he didn’t understand how to edit art. He clearly viewed my poetry book as art and was concerned about suggesting changes that weren’t in line with my vision. I’ll admit that I go back and forth on my poetry book. There are times I see it as my work of art and other times it’s a story I’ve crafted.

      That just makes me that much more careful during the editing process.


  9. Everything you wrote rings true for me as well. Writing can make one so vulnerable and yet be one of the most rewarding professions in the world. 😀


  10. Carrie Rubin says:

    “when I can push my emotional reaction aside, I know that what I am being told will improve the work.”—Yes, exactly. It can take time to reach that point, but the more we do this writing thing, the more quickly the emotional reaction fades, and we can get down to business.


    • That is the real trick for me, especially for this work as the subject is as close to my heart as you can get. Each time I look at an edit, I have to remind myself to not take the comment personally, it’s not a criticism of me, but rather a suggestions to improve the words and help my readers better understand the emotion or scene I am trying to convey.


  11. Mirja says:

    Annika’s answer is so in line with what I wanted to say that I will heartily agree with it all.
    I do love your comparison with the finishing of the wood working. But do your “from the heart” poems need to be That polished. Only you can judge but be true to yourself. You cannot write
    poems to a format.
    Good luck

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’ve pointed to the place where I am. While all my poems so far are “from the heart” they don’t always generate the feeling or effect I was hoping for. That was the reason to send out – to help me learn how to express the emotion I was hoping for. This won’t be a glossy high polish work, but I’d like a little more shine than a plain matte finish.


  12. Do remember, though, that your voice won’t look ‘perfect’ to anyone but your readers. We like the imperfections, the non-glossy maybe flawed phrasing. That’s what makes you different and appealing. It’s a tightrope to know how to keep your personal style while following enough rules to gain readers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am really aiming for “rustic semi-gloss.” You know, lots of defects with a suggestion that the writer was trying for a gloss. Keeping my personal style is the tension I’ll maintain during my editing. While I’ll likely accept most of the edits I received, I have noted a handful that would constitute a shift in style and voice, so those I’ll likely reject (or at least implement differently than the editor suggested).


  13. Bravery also came to mind, Andrew, but then again, so did the desire to learn. You wanted another opinion, albeit professional, for the sole purpose of improving your work. I don’t know if I told you (I’ve told some) but I’ve returned to college and I’m taking English this semester. My first batch of paragraphs (mini essays) earned a B+ and I was thrilled, after being out of school for 36 years. On the other hand, our first essay was due last week and you talk about editing? Well, I think I edited it about 25 times when I finally said to myself, “this is it; my brain is fried.” So I’m awaiting that infamous grade and keeping my fingers crossed. I wouldn’t focus on the corrections, but rather focus on fixing, learning, and moving on…:) Cheers to writing, Lauren


    • You’re right on there – part of the exercise was to learn. I’ve only been seriously writing poetry for a couple of years so I know I have a lot to learn. The editor I found is also a poet with a couple of collections in print so part of my ask was for a little coaching on my poetry.

      And congratulations for going back to school. I returned to college at age 45 to complete my BA in English. It was both a daunting and rewarding experience. I am convinced the constant writing and grading did help improve my skills. Keep at it, you’ll be getting A’s before too long.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, my poetry will always be amateur and derived from my experiences of life. As long as others continue to enjoy it, I’m truly grateful.That is awesome about earning your BA at 45 and in English! I’m 54, going for my AA! 😉
        Oh well; I wasn’t interested in college out of h.s. so right now, an AA would be a wonderful, personal accomplishment. However, it’s a part-time journey, so hopefully by the age of 60 I’ll have it in hand! 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement in school; I hope I continue to do well, but the best factor is stimulating my brain by critically thinking again…


        • What’s important is that you keep learning. I found my return to school to be rewarding. Okay and a bit weird sitting in classes with mostly 20 year-olds…

          And keep writing, l like to read your words.


        • I know and the good thing is my English class is at night so the ages vary and I’m not the oldest. 🙂 We shall see about future classes, but I’ll keep my chin up! And thanks so much for your kind words about my writing; the encouragement is what keeps us writers and bloggers continuing on this journey…and the same goes for your writing and blog…

          Liked by 1 person

  14. jfwknifton says:

    Well, for what it’s worth I think you can go on improving, altering etc for ages. Flaubert was a maniac for this, and some days, only wrote, literally, a single sentence. I prefer the idea of a vague deadline in my mind and always retaining the thought of “Well, that’s probably about as good as I can get it”


    • That’s the real problem isn’t it? When is good enough, good enough. I know that at some point I’ll have to declare it done – as difficult as that might be. My self imposed deadline has been the end of September for editing and I’ll move on to formatting and layout design in October. Based on what my editor sent, I think I’ll get very close to being able to do that.


  15. koehlerjoni says:

    This is the bravery that it takes to see your work find its place in the world. Just remember that you don’t have to go against what you know to be best for your writing.


    • The first line of the editor’s email with the edits was, “These are just suggestions…” Now my job is to read each one and decide whether or not that edit improves the work while maintaining my voice.


  16. Annika Perry says:

    Andrew, that takes guts to send your work out to be edited. It can be a very varying response depending on who has read the work, their experience and their taste. It must be tough to have so many changes written upon your work. In the end believe in yourself, look at the changes but then consider what you feel is right for your poems, how you want them to work, to be read. I might be putting myself out in a limb saying this but we all know of great writers who have been told that they will never succeed but then turn out bestsellers. It’s just one opinion. best of luck.


    • In this case, I’ve been thinking for sometime that I can improve the work, but just couldn’t figure out how. I knew that would take someone outside my circle of friends to help. The edits I received are mostly right on and pointed to solutions that make sense to me.

      Liked by 1 person

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