Friday, July 8, 2011

On Editing

*Reposted from my blog
I've always known I was a writer. I used to think I'd be a pretty good editor too. I even spent nearly a year of my life applying for editing jobs. I was very foolish in this endeavor, and I realize this now, now that I work regularly as a freelance writer and work with editors and see that I am completely, irretrievably a writer and a writer alone.
Here's the thing. My editors make my writing better. The reasonable part of myself knows this, the part that can work out things logically, do math, balance a checkbook (or at least pay bills online), etc. But the writer part of myself, the creative, egotistical, slightly unhinged staring at a blank Microsoft Word document for hours on end part of myself will never fully accept that. This is the dirty little secret that writers never tell anyone, the shameful truth that deep down it KILLS us for our work to get edited, for even a comma to get moved, no matter how much the logical side of our brain knows it's necessary.
I work for both a website and a print source as a writer. With the website work my pieces are minimally edited. Online writing gives you that freedom. I can be myself and silly and go off on tangents, (online writing also gives you more room), albeit not quite the wild tangents of my blogs. I did this work for almost a year before I got a second job writing for a print source in Richmond I very much admire and respect. Let's just say up until this point I was spoiled with my online writing in terms of how little my work was edited. 
Things are different with the print source. And let me make this absolutely clear. It should be. Print is a different beast. It has to be clean and concise and short. It has to get to the point. That's why editors are so important in print. They are the unsung heroes of print. They make it possible. Without editors all magazines and newspapers would just have endless, run-on articles that meander from page to page with no real purpose or direction. It would be like the Wes Anderson version of print media, and kind of unbearable.
But editors make writers' ego-driven and tangential tendencies work on the page. They rein us in and make us look good and we unfairly get to put our names to a piece instead of them. 
I know all this, rationally. But still, but still it wrecks me, every time I see what my work has become. It's better, undeniably. And if I could be objective I would admit this. But I'm a writer. Objectivity doesn't exist when it comes to my writing. Writers cannot function without criticism and editing. It's how we change and get better. But it kills us. We pout and we cry and we shake our fists at the skies, because of the tragedy of a moved comma or deleted sentence. We swear we were wronged. 
And yes, some of it is ego, the necessary ego any writer must have. But I think, personally speaking at least, it comes from a deep hurt over losing ownership to something that at its inception was mine and mine only. When I write something it belongs to me. It's an extension of me. Every word, every punctuation mark, everything is like a little sliver of my soul thrust out into the world.
And when those works are edited, especially when they're heavily edited, suddenly the thing that was 100% you becomes unrecognizable. It's as if you've sent your child out into the world for the first time, the child you raised and taught and shaped, the child that looks so much like you, and then four months later that child comes home in a mumuu, with a shaved head, and belonging to a cult. Sure it's still yours, but it's also not yours, not in the same way.
I'm sure this is something a lot of people can relate to, anyone who does anything creative that is then shaped or edited by other people. We know it makes it better. We know that without that editing our work would never flourish. To extend a metaphor it would be like the child who never goes to college, never changes, and lives forever in your basement eating pork rinds. No writer wants that. But still.
But still it breaks our hearts, every, single, time.

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