One Left

I hate editing.

I suspect I am not alone in that feeling.  It’s a bit like going to the dentist.  It’s needed and your teeth will be healthier when you’re done, but no one likes having hoses, tools and fingers shoved in your mouth.

Editing can be a bit like that.  Especially if you’ve been brave enough to show your work to someone else.  It’s one thing to look at your own teeth in the mirror and quite another to let someone else look at your teeth.  The output of our creative mind is similar.  I can l feel one way about the work, but another person can see something very different.

This happens from time to time. I often have Heather read and edit my blog posts before I post them.  I have learned not to say anything about the work before I hand it to her.  Sometimes I’ll hand her something that I think is just great and she say, “I don’t get it.” On the other extreme, I’ve given her writing that I thought was horrible only to hear, “Wow, this is great.”

For the last eight months I’ve been editing my poetry book.  I completed the actual first draft sometime last summer and since I was planning on self-publishing the thing, I decided it needed editing.  So I printed a copy and went over it with my red pen.  Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to find all my own mistakes, I asked Heather to do an editing pass.

The goal was to perfect the work and get it to a state where I’d feel comfortable showing it to the world. Likely I’ll never get to that place, but rather will just close my eyes and press the publish button and hide somewhere.

I knew there were problems with the book.  The problem was that I couldn’t figure out what wasn’t right and knew that I needed to show it to others.  Heather provided great input and I had one other trusted friend read it.  He provided some extensive notes and suggested edits too.

But he made this comment, “I know this is art and I don’t know how to edit someone else’s art.”  Which sums up one problem with editing, that an editor might see needed changes, that would change the work beyond the writer’s intent.  Just as often an editor has biases, tastes and artistic visions that aren’t shared by the writer, which can put both in conflict.

I do have the desire to make the work the best writing I can, so I did decide to hire an editor to read my poetry.  After some looking I chose a person’s whose writing I liked and who I thought had the skills to edit.  This person had one other quality I was looking for – they didn’t know me so would judge the work from the text only.  Another plus was that this editor didn’t charge as much as I feared.

The document I received in return was electronic bled on with very detailed notes and edits.  I’ll say that it was all professional and very rational feedback.  The edits generally made sense and as long as I could focus a rational mind on the editor’s comments it was all good.  Now, there were a few places where I disagreed with my editor and felt that an edit changed my voice or style.  Those few things didn’t end up in my final draft.

If there was anything wrong with the feedback it was in my emotional response to it.  This project is a greatly personal one for me.  It’s based on personal experience with all the fear and anxiety that dealing with cancer can bring.  The intent of the work is to try to get the reader to feel some of the same emotions and see the same scenes that I experienced.

Some of the editor’s comments confirmed that in a some places I failed to do that, which then triggered my built-in self-doubt and lack of confidence.  Emotionally it can be difficult for me to have confidence.  Another element for me is the fear of failure and looking a fool.  All being negative emotions that often come when I don’t want them.  I fight against it, but often it’s just there.  These feelings make it difficult not to take feedback on my writing personally.

Yup, the emotional response is, “You didn’t like my writing so you don’t like me.”  Not true of course, but this emotion gets interjected between reading the editor’s comments and my rational brain taking control.  The cost is emotional energy and sometimes a little hurt.  All together it often makes reading an editor’s notes feel like sitting in the dentist’s chair.

Well, I’ve been sitting in that chair and am now down to one last poem in my collection to edit. I’ve fought through improving my work and know that I’ve made a lot of improvements.  Certainly the current version of my book is much better than the first draft.

But there is one poem left.  One that means a lot to my brain.  One where there is a clear scene in my brain.  One where there is specific feeling that I’ve been trying to convey.  And one where all my editors have questioned what is going on. Just one where despite my efforts, I’ve failed to create the feeling or show the scene.

So here I sit, with a book that might be, except for one poem.  Now I am faced with exploring one suggestion that an editor made, rewrite that poem as prose.  Not easy to give up on what I thought was a good poem to move back to prose.

That poem now sits on my screen, looking back at me, frustrating me by not becoming what I’d hoped it would be. Well, that’s the cost of attempting to be creative, it doesn’t always work.

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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29 Responses to One Left

  1. Glynis Jolly says:

    I just have to ask you one question. I have no idea how you’ll respond or if you’ll respond at all, but here goes.

    Is this one poem your safety net so you don’t have to put your book out there into the world?
    Maybe this poem is giving you the excuse, subconsciously, to keep on hiding your emotions about your experience from the world. So far, when I have to face something like this, I have to bulldoze my way through. I’m the bull in the china shop.

    Poetry is difficult for me so I don’t even try to write it anymore. I do feel for you and your dilemma.


    • It is difficult to expose one’s self in this way in public. Honestly, your suggestion hasn’t occurred to me, but it’s a possibility. Actually the whole editing process could fit your suggestion. Like you say there comes a point where you just have to power through.

      This week, I’ve managed to do that and the poem and the collection is complete. More in my next post.


  2. Incredible advice…you may have already resolved your dilemma by now. Trust your gut I always say. Wishing you the best with whatever you decide to do.


  3. You sound like I did before publishing my book,” En Garde; My Battle with Breast Cancer.” But a magazine publisher once told me that The Story is Never Completely Told, The Book Never contains everything you wanted to say and the progress never ends. So one fine day make up your mind and let it go. Then don’t look back or kick yourself for forgetting something.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This book is just about ready to leave. It’s been telling me that for awhile. This last poem, however, has been telling me it’s not ready to leave.

      great, now I have books talking to me…


  4. Ron Lewandowski says:

    Hello Andrew
    Your last work is simply not finished YET. Maybe you could consider making it a part of your second book. Run this by the Grandchildren ……. see what they think!😀

    Keep up the good work



  5. In the end, it’s all about your voice. How you deliver the message. I have no doubt that is perfect because I follow your blog.

    One more thing: It’s important to remember that most of the people I know (excluding the 20-somethings) don’t have fantasies of becoming famous with their writing. It’s simply something they must do. If that’s you, just do it. Get it out there for other cancer survivors to read and love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And that’s the problem with this one poem – it hasn’t found it’s voice. I’ve given myself a bit of a deadline on this one. If I can crack it in another week, I’ll just leave it out and get the book out there. It isn’t a work that intend to make money at, it’s just a story I need to tell.


  6. Carrie Rubin says:

    Sorry you’re experiencing this. You’re not alone. Though I don’t know anything about editing poetry, I know how personal our work is, and sometimes it’s difficult to change. I find I need to sit on feedback for a while. Stepping away for a bit helps me be more objective. Good luck with things.


  7. Put it away for a week or two. Your brain will continue to work on the “problem”. Come back with fresh eyes and the solution might just slap you in the face.

    Oh, and I love the honesty in your post about your struggles getting your book ready to publish. It’s not often that people get that “real” and expose their vunerablities and insecurities. We all go through it (I think) but few are willing to admit it. Thanks Andrew for a beautifully written post!


    • Thanks for your kinds words. I think some folks don’t understand what goes in a writer’s mind. This post was for two purposes – clarify my on thinking on the problem and to let others in on the process.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. jfwknifton says:

    Chasing typos is a never ending hunt! And by the way, I would stick to your guns if you want the poem and it means a lot to you. There’s nothing to stop you putting some kind of footnote explaining it, and your feelings about it.


  9. floridaborne says:

    Your dental analogy is on the mark! As someone who has had teeth pulled, numerous fillings and an attempted root canal during the past 2 years, I can tell you that all of the pain was worth it to get rid of the infection.

    Here is how I look at editing: It’s better to have one person tear your work apart and help you put it back together again than to have a critic tear it apart in front of 10,000 readers with no hope of recovering from the ordeal.

    One technique I use that often helps me slice and dice my work is to have a “scrap” file for each book. I’ll put an entire chapter into it and then start rewriting without mercy. After all, the original chapter is safely stored away. Lots of good changes arise from that..

    BUT…there are times when you have to insist that what you wrote is the way you want it and it’s better to leave it as it is..


  10. PiedType says:

    I think most writers feel possessive about their writing because they’ve put a part of themselves into it. It’s very hard to objectively assess your own writing and almost mandatory that a second set of eyes do the proofreading and editing. I also know the frustration of trying to find the words that will adequately convey a particular feeling to someone else. I’m not sure it’s always possible. We can’t put actual blood on the page, or tears, or pain, or fear … and expecting mere words to convey those things may be expecting too much.


    • And that’s where this poem is at the moment – can’t find the right words. Still, before I give up on it, I am going to make one more pass at trying to put blood and tears on the page.


  11. YAPCaB says:

    Then again, you might stick with it as a poem, but rewrite from a different perspective


    • That is a possibility. My thought at the moment is to write it a bit like a scene from a play and see if I can make it work and then try to bring it back into poetic language. As you say, from a different perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That reminds me of Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird, when she showed “Go Set a Watchman” to her editor. The editor suggested that Harper rewrite the story from the eyes of a child rather than from the POV of a grown woman. The different POV was what made the story wonderful. In fact, Andrew, I’ll bet you’re on your way for a Nobel Prize for literature!


  12. Hang in there, and go with your heart. It is possible that that particular scene is a mystery, and there is no clear way to convey it to the outside world. And that would be OK. Call it mystical. Wear sunglasses like Bono and you can get away with anything.

    That said, if you’d like another set of eyes on it, I’d be happy to peek. Knowing I’m not a poetry buff might be a pro or a con; I’m not sure which. But I’d give you an honest 7th opinion; maybe one more you’d just need to disregard.

    Write like no one’s watching.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for your offer. We’ll see where I get this week, but I might take you up on it if I don’t make progress this week.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Elizabeth Helmich says:

        Agreed! I would be more than happy to help you out with this. I firmly believe you should keep it as a poem, since that was your original intention. Don’t give it! Give it a rest and come back to it in a day or two. This was very heartfelt, and I completely understand your frustrations here. You can do it!! Xx

        Liked by 2 people

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