There is often much said about the writing process- idea to conception, voice to style, delivery to conclusion- Still it is often easy to overlook the weighty task of editing. If you are no Alice Munro, whose manuscripts are edited sparingly before they are published, you are familiar with the process of placing your story by the guillotine blade, hoping that it would be carved rather than massacred. All that red-marking and margin note-taking added to your latest baby aka story can be simultaneously heartrending and uplifting. There is that initial, “Oh no! You didn’t just ask me to kill my darlings” moment possibly followed by, “That suggestion made a whole world of difference”. Thus, it is the journey between that causes palpitations in the hearts of the fearless of writers.
Although painters never hesitate to depict the imperfections of a nude form in a painting, the writer must resist the impulse to defend or camouflage glaring and subtle imperfections discovered within a story during the editing process. I can’t fully imagine the agony felt by those who are willing to read the naked, error-laden first drafts I send their way. I am even more excited during conversations about the piece. I try to shield the beads of sweat that form and tremors in my voice as I say “thank you” to the standard editing courtesy of starting a critique with a commendation. The truth is I appreciate those who proffer suggestions that run contrary to what I would have envisioned. Even those editors who are not able to express their thoughts in words make an impact on the story with their silence. For I view their speechlessness and silence as ominous signs and begin rewriting almost immediately.
Deborah Treisman, Fiction Editor of The New Yorker drops reveals a fascinating angle of this process. In interviews where she describes he relationship with featured writers in the magazine’s fiction section, there is mention of the rapport a writer and editor ought to establish to ensure the malleability of the editing process and the vote of confidence that the writer would be receptive to comments and suggestions given. I have found it most helpful to ask those whom I admire their style and works or those who read authors I respect to edit the stories I write. With that foundation laid, even when suggestions prove difficult to incorporate or reconcile, I concede. When the changes are major, there is that fear of falling into the trap Treisman describes as turning in a draft worse than the first, at a point of no return where the editor cannot help the writer any further.
This piece has become longer than I intended, but hopefully the point has been made, great editors are indispensable to the writing process. Thank you to all the editors who painstakingly read my crude drafts and transformed them into readable material, those who were courageous enough to suggest that I change points of views and narrators in those pieces, reforming grammatical errors, making tenses uniform, and never failing to show me the magic of the editing process. I write because you edit.
N.B. The next post would be my most edited short story since it passed through 6 editors!