In this post, from April 5th 2009, I explore what editing – and editors – mean to me, as a wife, columnist and life coach. I also offer some tips on writing – and editing – with authenticity.
A Faithful Hand
Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor to measure words but to pour them all out, just as it is, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keeping what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away. ~ George Eliot
These words smiled up at me when I first discovered them, slipped a hand in mine, waiting to be taken home and shared with my husband.
I rarely write about him; I often refer to him, and to incidents in our family life, but to write about my love for him would be to go too deeply for comfort into the depths of my own being. After decades of devotion, it would damage something precious to try and unpick and examine the threads of the tapestry our life has become. Sometimes, words don’t go far enough.
Imagine the holy place that speaks to your soul in sacred silence, the sun, the sky, the sea, the earth, the breath of inspiration beneath your wings, a parent’s unconditional love, a child’s smiling eyes full of unquestioning faith and devotion, the way your best friend feels like home. The precious details of your day that make you rejoice to be alive. Anything that gives you a glimpse of God and can only be expressed in a prayer of gratitude.
That’ll give you some idea of how blessed I feel.
Is there anything or anyone you feel you can’t do justice to with words?
My favourite editor…
It’s no concidence that my husband is the first person I trust if I need the pre-submission draft of a longer piece checked. There are no ceilings when it comes to his belief in me. I could get a million negative comments from others, but as long as I liked a piece and he liked it, I wouldn’t wobble and crash.
He’s more well read than I am, and devours books on every topic without prejudice. He has a sharp eye, a longing for clarity and an ear that appreciates writing that flows effortlessly, regardless of sentence length. He likes authenticity and originality, passion and purpose.
One thing he does hate is pretentiousness. To hear him say “It’s good. You write well.” makes me feel like I’ve come home, and if he doesn’t like a word or a phrase, I just say, OK, and go to work on changing it. No fuss, no pain, no ego.
My Child Writer…
I write now like I did when I was a child. I have no cruel inner critic when it comes to my writing. I get the same pleasure when I edit as I do when I’m spring cleaning, redecorating a room, gardening or packing essentials into the smallest bag possible, ready for the simple pleasures of a beach holiday. I edit my own work like a child joyfully knocking down sandcastles, knowing the sand and the sea will still be there tomorrow. And when a piece is done, my heart knows it like a child does when a colourful crayoned picture is finished and handed over, and a sweet voice says this is for you.
My problems begin when someone else wants to edit my work.
What I need from an editor…
I can only work with editors who have talent but no egos, people who are so comfy in their own skins that they don’t need to get any gratification or power trips from suggesting changes to another person’s work. I like editors who edit for the same reason I write – because they care, and would find it impossible not to. Coaches want to see a person become the best they can be; good editors feel the same about a piece of writing.
But that’s where personal opinions make editing a minefield for me. In most cases, if you have an editor, it means they have the power to choose whether or not one of your pieces gets published. If your main aim is to be published, then you have to accept that they’ll be superimposing their own paradigm of “the best it can be” over your work, using their preferences and their criteria.
That’s OK if they love the bulk of your work, expect even more from you and agree with you about what you consider to be the best you’ve done so far.
What works for me…
I’ve had four editors in VOICE, the coaching newsletter I write for. Three have brought their coaching talents to editing, which has both raised my game and spoiled me for other editorial styles.
As editors, they’ve had important things in common: they share their praise and support easily, they have all accepted that I hate tracking, that I freak out if they write their own suggestions all over my work and that the first thing I need to have before I’ll start re-editing a piece is their gut feeling about it. If they don’t love an article, it’s much, much easier for me to create a new one from scratch; I hate having to make so many changes to a piece that it no longer feels like it’s mine. I’ve been lucky enough to receive a lot of editorial emails beginning with “I love it! There are only one or two things I was wondering if you could maybe consider changing.”
The editor who ‘fired’ me, a coach whose own edgy, sarcastic writing I didn’t enjoy, loved writing her ‘improvements’ all over my pieces with tracking, but didn’t like lyricism, long pieces, Scottish spelling or me. One of my favourite pieces, Birdsong, was published intact because I’d got to the stage where I said to her “Take it or leave it but don’t dare change a comma or a word.”
My favourite editors have discovered how I operate best. They’ve learned that I will edit happily for days for the fun and the dialogue, but that I don’t respond well to blunt criticism of my work or changes I haven’t made myself; I react like a fiercely protective parent and the stunned, hurt child whose crayon drawing has had red pen corrections scribbled all over it.
This is why I’ll probably never be able to be a copywriter, a ghost writer or a freelancer. I know this attitude may make me look like a primadonna, but please believe me, I’m not. I love hacking my drafts to bits and trying to polish them to perfection but I stop when it’s no longer fun or when I feel like I’m ripping the heart, authenticity and spontaneity out of a piece. I know all novelists and freelancers need good editors but I think a special kind of editing is necessary when the writing is deeply personal as well as creative self expression.
That’s why I would happily adhere to a blogger’s requests for me to change something in a commissioned guest post. As a blogger, you are your site’s creative parent; you’re reponsible for whatever goes out on your site, and I respect that.
Be your own editor…
- Before you send a piece anywhere, be your own editor, your own supportive coach who asks good questions. Editing is writing, an inextricable part of it, so find your own metaphor for helping you love it. Imagine chipping away at a sculpture like Michaelangelo, trying to reveal the work of art you know is within. Imagine it’s like gardening, or packing a small suitcase for a holiday or spring cleaning your house from basement to attic. Before we pack or garden or declutter, we need to know why we’re doing it, and what we hope to reveal or achieve.
- Who are you? Clean up your own personal stuff. The hidden you, the real you, will be revealed through your writing, whether you want it to happen or not. Is this a person you’re happy for the world to meet? Ask What does this piece say about me? every time you write, even when the piece is based on the needs of your reader. Remember that everything you write on the internet will be visible for all time. Write something that your grandchildren won’t cringe at.
- Ask yourself if your writing is a vehicle for passing on useful information or if visitors enjoy the experience of being with you and your work as much as the information they take away. If it’s the latter, don’t be too quick to edit your quirks, personality and passions out of your presentation.
- Learn where your own lines are drawn and how far you’re willing to cross them to have a piece appear in print. Integrity is priceless.
- Imagine that everything you write forms part of your resumé. It’s OK to see proofreading as part of your editing, but fresh eyes and ears and leaving some time and space before proofreading is vital. I find it helps to print a piece off then go through it with a pen, pretending that it’s not my work.
- Be clear about who your reader is; honour the bond you create with each and every individual who takes the time to read your words.
- Love and respect yourself with the same unconditional devotion you give your loved ones. A piece of the divine universe is trying to recreate itself through you and your writing. Scrub up and let it shine through.
How do you feel about editing and being edited?
(This was supposed to be a birthday ‘card’ for my husband, a simple quote, but as often happens, something flooded in and overflowed. He didn’t mind, though…he’s my very own Colonel Brandon.
The current IAC VOICE editor is Linda Dessau, a writer, creativity coach and expert on music therapy. My previous VOICE editors were Angela Spaxman, IAC President and leadership coach, and Barbra Sundquist, a respected coach certification mentor coach.)