Sitting with Edits

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Photo Thanks to Tram Mau Tri Tam

I’ve been spending a lot of my edge time editing. Edge time is time that I have on the edges on my schedule. Frankly there isn’t much. But every few years I get to edit something meaningful. I’ve been working on someone else’s stuff while also writing a few things of my own in the last months. More on that later.

One thing I’ve noticed about editing—my own and other people’s work—is that the space between the readings is the space where the writer grows. That’s particularly true if you sit with the edits long enough to learn from them. The same is true in a verbatim seminar, in a class, or in a meeting with members or stakeholders or friends. The longer you sit with what’s said, the more impact what’s said has.

Feedback is only as good as you allow it be. If it’s dispensable, you’ll dispense with it. Of course, my post is about editing. All those tracked changes can instruct you, change you, improve your ability to communicate. But you have to take the risk and let that happen.

You have to choose to be vulnerable, to admit to poor word choice, to accept that your phrase was confusing, and to surrender to another option. That option may not be what the editor suggests, what you at a different time might choose. But another option may be the route toward clearer, tighter sentences.

Another thing I’ve noticed about editing is that it helps the editing process to pause. There is always space between words in a sentence. Even though there’s only one space after periods, it’s still a space worth respecting.

Giving myself time to think through the questions of my editors or to notice my own literary proclivities or to see how many times I use passive voice will make me a stronger communicator. It’ll make me a poet. It’ll charge my words. It’ll engage me, and an engaged me eventuates into a engaged sentence.

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Role of an Editor

The role of the editor is an intimate one because she reads your mistakes and judges your intent and suggests an alternative path to your goal.  As much as we think we do, we never like alternative paths.  We like what we know, words we’re married to, what we’ve spent days writing toward.

An editor sees your gaps, can exploit your errors rather than clarify your efforts, and help you listen to you, to your words, and to the hopes underneath them.  Like a guide, she takes in your hardest-won words and makes them better.

An editor can damage you.  An editor can discourage you.  Or an editor can draw a simple, clear line between your work and your end.  She can look ahead and see the page when you can only see the sentence.  She can show you that there’s more in you without suggesting your earlier presentation as inferior.

Her words return again and again: “There’s more.  There’s more in you.  Go for it.  Go.  See.  Soar.”

About Your Writing

When we talked yesterday about your writing–about the list of books in your mind, the list you went down without any effort, the list that included chapter outlines, themes, and topics in you like blood–I hope you heard me despite my firm and sometimes spicy presentation.  I hope you heard in my words the evidence that there are people waiting for you to get the work done.  I hope you heard, in me, the readers who would not only be open to your book(s) but who would be excited about it.  Interested in it.  Generous with it.

I hope you never lose the sense that you are not done until you are faithful to the conviction you told me about, that long strand of material sitting in you and expecting to be given to readers of your printed words, listeners to your spoken words.  I hope you are upset in an essential way until you respond.

I hope you connect your head, your heart, and your hands, and that the work of your hands proves to you that it’s about those accepting your work with gladness as much as it is about you completing something so internal to you.  I hope you realize that whatever has stalled you has stalled those of us who will read your stuff.

I hope you get through your resistance, your fears, however real they are.  I hope that you write and that you publish and that we can laugh about how hard I came at you even though I really didn’t have the right to say what I said.  I hope I was speaking out of my own reactions to the welled up, stored up, waiting up work in you but also for the audience that is expecting.

Victor Lavalle on Writing and Revising

I’m finishing Victor Lavalle’s latest novel, The Devil in Silver, a story about inmates in a mental hospital who befriend each other while fighting a known but unknown devil and an increasingly unresponsive health system.  These videos aren’t about Victor’s novel but writing itself; he reads a good bit of a story in the video and discusses it the way he would in one of his classes.  I hope you learn from him.  It’s helpful if you’re writing now or revising.

Writing Is Frustration

“I know I’m not going to write as well as I used to. I no longer have the stamina to endure the frustration. Writing is frustration — it’s daily frustration, not to mention humiliation. It’s just like baseball: you fail two-thirds of the time.”

–Philip Roth

Writing Rules

I saw this list of Zadie Smith’s Writing Rules a couple years ago, before I started blogging, I think.  Since I saw it again here, I thought to pass it on.

  1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
  2. When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
  3. Don’t romanticise your ‘vocation’. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle’. All that matters is what you leave on the page.
  4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
  5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
  6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
  7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.
  8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
  9. Don’t confuse honours with achievement.
  10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.

Nathan Bransford on Revision Fatigue

I’ve read Nathan Bransford’s blog for years and find it a chest of treasured tools.  He wrote recently about revision, a lovely mess I’m in the middle of, reflecting on a post by Jennifer Hubbard.

The best way to deal with revision fatigue is to trust in your heart that it’s a very useful and necessary feeling: what better time to turn a critical eye on your book than when you think it is an affront to humanity?

The good news is, as Jennifer says, it means you’re almost done (at least for now). The danger is getting discouraged by your fatigue and just calling your work finished and turning it in before you’ve given yourself some time to utilize that fatigue. It can be demoralizing, after all that time and effort, to revisit your work and be unsure of what it was all for.

Just know that the feeling will pass and instead let yourself simmer in it for a while. Power through and keep working. You’ll be glad you did later.

Nathan’s post is here.