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,