Some Insights on Editing…

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

driftwood-heart-wreath-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.)


    1. Hi, Barbra,
      You had me going there! It really was a pleasure having you as an editor. My thought processes always began with “I hope she likes this.” I never really doubted the suitability of my pieces for the newsletter, but I always wanted to know if they’d made some kind of emotional connection. It says something about our relationship that I remember the only paragraph you ever asked me to cut; it was one about my son asking me if I really wanted to have that second helping of pasta when I was on a diet, in a piece called Skin Deep.

  1. Reading about your life with your husband/arch editor brought tears to my eyes, Janice. Thank you for sharing what you have of your inexpressible life together. 🙂

    The timing of this piece is perfect for me. I’m considering revisions to one of my websites and your – I’ll call it Integrity List – points the way, reveals some dimensions of the challenge I am feeling and generally reminds me of how creative process can be ‘messed with’ ~ even by me!
    (I’ll refer to this post over my upcoming writing adventure.)

    My own experiences with editors have been positive fortunately. Besides the respect for my creative vulnerabilities, I’ve experienced the distinct pleasure of being on the receiving end of editorial artistry, those well-timed and placed caring, apt prompts. Those rare dances around misunderstandings and seeing from different perspectives can be enlivening in such a safe context, too.

    Thank you again for going into and out of the heart of things, Janice!

    1. You’re very welcome, Connie.

      I loved this post and am celebrating the bloggling’s birthday by sharing some of my earlier, less-read posts with readers who might have missed them first time around. You know how difficult my OCD and creative tendencies can be and so can guess what Superspouse has to put up with on the more difficult days!

      I’ve always thought of you as one of life’s natural editors, the empowering kind, who’s available, in an ego-less way, to help folk polish their lives as well as their work, if they seek that kind of support.

  2. PS: From my experiences editing academic writers, following work in the publishing field, I was surprised to find some equated the use of an editor with an inability to write, exposing personal inadequacy.

    Much of what I did was proofreading and copyediting. I was aware from my own writing process that another’s eyes are definitely an advantage. My pet expression was “the writer is seduced by her own writing”! It’s quite difficult to proofread and copyedit without being hijacked by one’s content. And, yes, the more ‘mechanical’ or objective issues of grammar, spelling, etc., are the less sexy part ~ for most, unless you’ve cooed as I have with others about colons and semicolons!

    1. I agree with so much of what you’ve said here. How I edit academic work for folk is so different from how I approach personal pieces of writing. Even though my first degree and diplomas were in language study and teaching, I actually became a better editor (of other people’s work) after I completed my Diploma in Translation and my coach certification. They both improved my ability to understand the soul and essence of a person or piece of writing.

      I ask my husband to ‘cast an eye’ over stuff, he knows I’m only asking for input on typos and ease and clarity of reading. I love discussing editorial suggestions with other folk who love language as much as they love clarity of expression. It’s like being in a quilting club and chatting with others about different possible arrangements of patchwork pieces. My ego runs a mile, though, if I sense the other person’s coming from a place of thinking they could do it better. That just makes me want to say “Go and write your own stuff, then…” or “Warts and all, I do me better than anyone else can.” But of course, we’re talking online publishing here. In the world of ‘proper’ publishing, there are all sorts of other factors in play, and editors are actually powerful wee deities. Take offence and ignore them at your peril.

  3. My husband is truly beyond words to describe and when I tell people about him and his skills, they often look incredulous, except for family and friends who’ve gotten to know him over time. He is the only truly genuine and authentic person I know. I’m blessed fully and completely by our relationship.

    I’m glad to read you are blessed by a wonderful husband, too!

    My husband is also by best editor, though we often disagree on the direction the material should take. I’ve never liked editing because I often write in a flow that makes sense to me. When someone (including me) inserts or deletes from that flow, I balk at the effort it will require to re-work the flow again.
    .-= Lori Hoeck´s last blog ..Visit my guest post on life as a black belt =-.

    1. Hi, Lori.
      I loved hearing you talk about your love for your husband here! Life’s not easy caring for an elderly parent, but to have the love and support of a caring, supportive spouse while you go through such a tough phase is truly a blessing and it’s a relief to those of us who care about you to know that you have such soulmate.

      I know what you mean about interfering with the flow of a piece. That’s why I always print off or save a copy of my original piece before I start cutting and pasting; all too often I’ve mutilated the soul out of a piece and changed it beyond recognition. It often makes the original seem less bad than I originally thought. On the other hand, sometimes, a brutal editing makes me realise that the only part worth keeping is the one paragraph out of a hundred that’s survived the process!

  4. The person that words just cannot do justice to: Mandy. I could take paragraphs from novels, verses from songs and/or poetry and what I’d end up with wouldn’t fully describe Mandy as I “experience” her.

    My favourite editor: I have to admit, I appreciate the honesty and lessons that have come from the emails you have sent me Janice. Even though they have been focused on the grammar side of things, they are still educational and supportive. Thank you.

    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.

    I can whole-heartedly agree with your husband’s outlook. It seems to me like the two of you make an excellent team/partnership.
    .-= Marc´s last blog ..The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – A review =-.

  5. Hi Janice. I can really appreciate this post because I LOVE to edit and I go to great lengths to ensure that the writer’s voice and tone is only “polished” as you say; not rewritten.

    I love words. If I know I have an editing job coming I’m almost drooling as if I were about to open a box of chocolates. One of my colleagues says I’m more of an architect/contributor than an editor. You are fortunate to have your husband who knows you and your writing well. It’s not always easy to work so closely with a spouse. 😀
    .-= Davina´s last blog ..In Appreciation of Good Health =-.

    1. I’d love being a colleague where you work! I love editing, too. I get the same feeling after a writer’s thanked me that a sculptor must feel when they’ve chipped away the marble to reveal the work of art they knew was there all along. There’s no ego in it for me, just a desire to midwife a piece of writing that’s waiting to be born, before handing it back to its parent. The only time I took executive editorial control of someone’s piece and had the final say was when I was compiling contributions for an ebook I’d conceived.
      .-= janice´s last blog ..Some Insights on Editing… =-.

  6. One of my favorite topics, this one. You may recall the account of my stint with the educational publisher in Austin. I was in charge of books; my friend Sue was in charge of journals. Whenever we were out together and people asked what we did, Sue would say, “We’re commatologists. We fix commas for a living.”

    The best editing I’ve had was in a grad school creative writing class, where we had to turn in advance copies for each person in the class to read and edit. Then in class we’d go around talking about each piece.
    I got hammered by the instructor for being too much of a stylist. He said if you start hammering away at a piece like it’s a slab of marble, it will become overly wrought and you’ll never finish it — there will always be the temptation to make one more tweak. I disagree. I think you should stay with a piece until you cannot find a single other edit to make. This is why you see so little from me. It takes me forever to finish a piece.

    I am probably a better editor than I am a writer. Please tell your wonderful hubby that this former editor loves everything the two of you do. 🙂
    .-= Brenda´s last blog ..The Easter Flower =-.

    1. Hi, Brenda.
      My hubby doesn’t edit any of my blog posts – they go out too frequently and I’m trying to be as spontaneous with those as I can be comfortable with – but when I wrote my column, or I’m guest posting, he becomes Everyreader. Because he’s not a life coach and doesn’t read blogs or self development stuff, if he gets a powerful message from a post, I know I’ve made it clear enough. If he looks teary-eyed, I’m tempted to send it to a proper publisher because it means I’ve surprised him as well as touching him!

      I was hoping you’d enjoy this post. Aren’t you thrilled at how many fellow editors there are in these boxes! It makes me want to do a wee happy dance! I feel completely myself here, weird passions and all. I’d probably be a semicolonologist, even though it has a somewhat scatological sound to it! Even though folk revile semicolons along with the passive voice, adjectives, adverbs and paragraphs of more than two sentences, I love them and feel they’re underused where a full stop is too brusque and a comma’s not enough.

      And by the way, I reckon you’re both a good writer and a good editor; editing is writing, the way I see it. What’s left out is as important as what goes in, whether it comes to sentences, paragraphs, whole pieces or blogsites. Quality’s more important than quantity.
      .-= janice´s last blog ..Some Insights on Editing… =-.

  7. Just as every adult goes through that process of setting boundaries, deciding how they will let people treat them, learning to say what they want…every creator, must, as part of their maturing, decide how they will let their work be handled by editors, directors, teachers, critics, etc. I think its a privilege to come into that circle of editing or giving feedback, and it should be treated as such. It should be done with a spirit of humility for toward the creative process itself, and deep appreciation for how hard it is to create and then put work out there.

    I’m passionate about this topic because I know from my experience and from so many others’ that when we don’t learn what protects our own creativity, when we don’t learn what feels okay and supportive for us, the muse decides its not safe to play, and she retreats. She says, I’ll come back when you have nicer folk around.

    I love hearing in you your own acceptance and clarity around what works for you and what doesn’t, and the distinctions about ego/no ego, both for you and the editor, are helpful.

    I read (I think in a Julia Cameron book) that a great critique makes the artist feel liberated and relieved because it shows them what is missing from the work and how it can be better. Things the artist sensed were missing or problematic but that they couldn’t quite pinpoint or name. It sparks that “aha!” moment and gives them direction about what to do next. Resonant direction.

    Grateful for your work Janice.
    .-= Tara Mohr´s last blog ..Les Guest Posts =-.

    1. Hi, Tara.
      I’m not going to say much about your comment, except please use it as the basis of a post on your own blog. I resonated with so many of the points you made.

      The editor who ‘fired’ me was an awful coach, in my opinion, as she had no idea how to bring out the best in me as a person. As an editor…well, least said the better. She didn’t last long in the post. My other editors were amazing. If they mentioned something, it was always something I hadn’t been sure of myself. They never changed anything without asking for my permission, even my crappily inconsistent punctuation, and if they had any suggestions, they would always ask for permission to make them, or preface them with something like “Would you mind if I used a dash here instead of….?” That led to respectful conversation and fun dialogues. If I’d used punctuation for poetic or mimetic reasons, for example, I could explain that and be understood.

      Thank you for adding another great comment to an already wonderful comments box, Tara. I appreciate it.
      .-= janice´s last blog ..Some Insights on Editing… =-.

  8. Hi Janice .. so pleased you reprinted this .. and it’s great to hear a little about your dearly beloved hubby .. so happy for you – that you’re still crossing the threshhold hand in hand .. it’s a lovely phrase. The only question I’d like to ask if I may .. is what does he do .. ie being so well read etc .. is he a teacher, or a professor .. or???

    What you’ve set out is probably so right – I’ve never tried to publish something .. it will come .. so your words will be helpful – perhaps even you! Time will tell .. I’d hate to have my article messed around with, like you I’d rather restart .. positive criticism is so helpful ..

    commatologists – I like that word – wish my grammar was better, or rather that perhaps I understood why I do things .. amazing where did I get my learning from?! One day I’ll catch my tail and understand more .. I sincerely hope.

    Loved this post Janice .. thanks so much .. really helpful – have an excellent rest of the week .. Hilary
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Folklore Notes and report back on Great British Garden Bird Watch =-.

    1. I’ve read your posts, Hilary, and you write with great care, accuracy, flow and panache. An editor would have fun working with you; your passion for whatever you’ve researched for your blog articles really shines through and carries each piece.

      My hubby – soon to be renamed Superspouse – is neither a professor nor an ‘academic’, but should be – could be. He’s a graduate and went on to study for several more diplomas in various career threads, but he’s never done creative writing or studied any aspect of it. For pleasure, he reads all kinds of literature (even books with sad endings, unlike me…) as well as massive tomes of what I would find excruciatingly boring stuff. He’s just all round clever and well informed. But what’s so inspiring is that he has no intellectual arrogance. He’d rather keep learning and just love his family well than show off what he knows. He’s the most ‘together’ person I know.
      .-= janice´s last blog ..Some Insights on Editing… =-.

      1. Hi Janice .. thank you .. that inspires me and gives me great encouragement .. I’ll remember that for when the time comes.

        So glad to hear a little more about your hubby .. and his desire to learn – isn’t that great. Being all round clever and well informed is a fantastic accolade from his wife! Lovely views of the family and the happiness you all share .. great – have a lovely enjoyable week .. Hilary
        .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Fancy a Cornish Cream Tea? In Cornwall, in Tokyo or at home? =-.

  9. Hi Janice,

    I remember when you posted it and it was nice to read it again.

    Just like you, my husband is my editor. He reviews every thing I write and makes sure it is as perfect as it can be.

    Editing is not a fun process because it does make you vulnerable but when we listen to the comments with an open mind, we sure can learn a lot from the person who is editing.

    None of us are perfect and we are all works in progress. Learning is how we grow and that is what editing is….a learning process.
    .-= Nadia – Happy Lotus´s last blog ..War, Love, The Allure of Travel and “The Lotus Eaters” =-.

    1. Hi, Nadia.
      Can you believe it’s been a whole year since this post went out?! Thank you for supporting me and being a travelling companion for this long.

      I agree with what you say about the link between being edited and feeling vulnerable. That’s why I’ve turned down writing gigs where I didn’t feel I had a strong enough relationship with the editor to be able to enjoy it. I actually enjoy doing my own editing. It’s not that I prefer doing my own to having someone else doing it; I love the process. It’s part of the writing.

      I find editing a great growth tool and analogy for life, too. It makes us ask tough questions of ourselves, but also helps us draw necessary boundaries around ourselves if we feel strongly enough about something to defend it to a person whose editing skills we respect. In the same way, we have to be brave enough to ask ourself the tough questions as we go through life, and get rid of what’s not working so that what’s important can shine through clearly.

      Thank you, and thanks too to your hubby for his contribution to your blog. Your consistency never ceases to amaze me!
      .-= janice´s last blog ..Some Insights on Editing… =-.

  10. I’m so glad you shared this again since I missed it the first time around. I love what you said about your feelings for your husband, it warms my heart.

    I tend not to edit my blog posts much at all besides reading through them once or twice before hitting “Publish”. In college, I loved self-editing much as you have described, filling page after page with comments in red ink, joyfully improving my manuscript piece by piece. It is much harder to have someone else edit one’s work, I think because, as you have said, it becomes a criticism of much more than the work, it becomes one of one’s self.

    Thank you so much for getting me thinking about how I perceive criticism – I think it applies outside of writing as well. It’s so good to have you back and blogging regularly – I missed you during your last dormant period.
    .-= Daphne´s last blog ..Housewifery =-.

    1. Hi Daphne,
      It’s lovely to see you here again. I don’t know about you, but the comment boxes here feel like such a safe place to express myself with like-minded folk that it makes writing from the heart so much easier. That’s why I shocked myself the other day when I wrote quite a strident reply to a new visitor I felt had risked offending one of our regular readers. It was almost as if the sanctity of a safe place to share thoughts, feelings and life journeys had been thratened somehow by someone thinking that normal ‘blog rules’ applied. Don’t get me wrong, I welcome all visitors, but I understand exactly what you mean when you say that someone criticising heart-writing can feel like personal criticism. Everone here, me included, can handle themselves – we have tough, savvy readers – but I take the ambience of this blog very seriously, much the same way as I light candles, bake, and fill my home with good music and flowers to make guests – old and new – feel welcome and at home.
      .-= janice´s last blog ..Some Insights on Editing… =-.

  11. Janice, hello again, this is a really insightful post and I appreciate your honest approach. Since I am my own severest editor I have to admit I never took kindly to any editing in the past. Perhaps I would feel differently now. I think it’s important to dance with the process – there are places that can be edited and places that cannot be touched, and the writer needs to know this. That in turn requires an intimate connection with your work and a sense of how the details integrate to create the whole. When there is a sense that editing is done to honor the integrity of this whole, then there is not a problem – both writer and editor are in accord to realize a common purpose. Thank you for sharing this post. I am glad to have emerged from a period of retreat to enjoy connecting again from Japan – Catrien Ross.
    .-= Catrien Ross´s last blog ..Catrien Ross on Finding 9 Powerful Meanings in Your Smile When You Don’t Feel Like Smiling =-.

  12. Hi Catrien,
    Thank you for making this one of the places you visit after your retreat. I don’t know if you feel the same, but time away always gives me clarity and when I log on again, I become more selective about where and how I spend my online time.

    I love how you describe the process as dancing. It evokes an image of folk adding their uniqueness and steps to the same process while working together to create a beautiful whole and trying not to clash or step on toes.

    I was blessed to be able to write for 13,000 other coaches. Not only did I feel my editors were working with me and other columnists to produce a helpful, inspirational newsletter, but we felt that if any coaches were inspired or helped by the newsletter, that their clients might benefit, too. It helped to have that bigger picture and a common goal.
    .-= janice´s last blog ..Some Insights on Editing… =-.

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