Thursday, July 11, 2013

the joy - and agony - of being edited.

Editor-writer relationships can be complicated. When I worked for a daily newspaper, I dreaded the 10 pm call from the night editor that meant I had to tear myself away from my glass of wine/movie/friends, dig out my day's notes and answer questions about a story I'd submitted hours before. Yet as much as I hated this "my-work-never-ends" feeling, it was better than opening up the newspaper the next morning and seeing some edit that changed the meaning of a phrase, or, worse yet, introduced an error.

The majority of edits I received were thoughtful, well-intentioned and ultimately resulted in a better story. But as an inexperienced journalist, I sometimes felt powerless in the hands of an editor.

After a year away from professional writing, I'd almost forgotten the agony of being edited. Until yesterday. An edited version of my blog post -- blog post, for God's sake! -- landed in my inbox. As my first piece of writing for a magazine I've long wanted to write for, I was fairly attached to it, so when my carefully crafted draft came back to me looking like a toddler had attacked it with a highlighter, it was all I could do to scan the comments, close the document and go for a walk.

Writing, I read recently, should be a painful experience. If it doesn't hurt, you're not stretching hard enough. For the past 15 months, I apparently haven't been stretching very well at all. I'd been self-editing, which can be challenging in its own way but isn't nearly as tough on the ego (or the story) as being edited by someone else. I'd been happily blogging, pitching here and there on a freelance basis, and even had an essay appear in Alaska magazine with nary a word changed. I was beginning to find this writing business fairly pleasant after all.

But in retrospect, my writing suffered as a result. Thinking back on the blog post I just wrote for High Country News, the first draft I submitted would have been the version I'd have posted if it was for my personal blog. But after wrestling with the editors' suggestions -- even the ones I initially bristled against -- I found they were spot on. I pretty much rewrote the piece, and the second draft is much, much better than the first.

Which makes me wonder -- how much would my blog posts from the past year have benefited had they been edited by someone else? I imagine they'd have been significantly better. But on the other hand, that's not necessarily the point of a personal blog. In using this as a space to flesh out ideas, experiment with voice and style and forms, and practice the discipline of quick, regular writing whether I need to or not, I'd say it's nonetheless been successful.

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