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Editing: is it alright to?

January 5, 2012

I feel like editing’s in the air today. I’ve discussed it a bit on twitter, I’m editing pieces myself, and I just finished a bunch of first drafts for the real site. So it’s editing season.

I’ve functioned as editor at aforementioned site for a couple years now. In the beginning, of course, I didn’t have a lot to do, since it was a small crew, and we didn’t post a lot. This time thereabouts last year, though, we opened up: we recruited absolutely everyone who we could, under the assumption that they’d learn, grow, and develop as writers. It was a pretty good assumption, because we established a cadre of talented regulars, and we’ve added even more new folk as time passed.

And along the way, I feel like I’ve grown as an editor. I’ve gotten more used to doing it to articles, doing it myself for fiction, and just in general providing people with feedback. I’ve received a lot more, too. Here’s some things I feel like I’ve learned over time:

1.) Don’t listen to everything. People giving feedback often have good ideas, but they’re not always the right ones. As an editor I’m always seeing different paths things can go down, imagining how I’d write them. It’s important, I think, to give this feedback, to give the writer perspective on these issues, but it’s also important that they know to ignore this advice and do what they want to do. Because “what you want to do” is usually better than “what someone else wants you to do.”

2.) That being said, I take even positive mentions as minor negatives. That is, if something stands out enough to someone that they notice it, it’s probably not fitting into the text as written. It’s distracting. If everyone comments on the same thing, I’m probably getting rid of it, even if they’re all saying “This is effing brilliant.” I may also find ways to raise the brilliance of the words around it, but that’s neither here nor there.

3.) Never edit immediately. Immediate editing is reactionary, and as a writer I never do it. If I edit immediately, I’ll listen to everything said and not make my own judgments about where I want a piece to go. I like to take a couple days, forget about the article, and then go back in, see where it takes me again. See what makes sense, what doesn’t make sense.

4.) Right now, my weakness as editor is grammatical. No question. I know grammar, but I edit a fairly hefty volume of material for the money I make for it. I miss stuff, I know. Where I’ve gotten better is at identifying sentences, working out the root of problems. I’m better at smoothing transitions, clearing out the fat, and this is, I think, more important than grammar. Because if I’m patient I can catch that too.

5.) Finally, I’ve learned that editing, either my own work or others, is a creative process. It’s you recreating something you did, or something someone else did. In the latter case, obviously, you’re doing it in your head, trying to imagine a better version of this piece and then helping the author drive there. In my own case I’ve gotten better about fundamentally rewriting work instead of just “editing”. I go in and retype most of it, cribbing competent sentences from the original, but at heart what I’m doing is creating again, recreating more intelligently. This has helped make editing more fun and more interesting to me as a writer, and it’s made me do it more often.

So those are some small thoughts. I’m not perfect, I know. I definitely feel like I’m learning new things about editing every day, though; it’s a process I’m actively improving at, and for that I’m very grateful.

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