I got in my car and felt like crud, lower than dog poo on the bottom of your shoe. I had been putting in tons of hours at work, extra hours each evening and again on the weekend. For once, I was hoping to leave early, but it wasn’t in the cards, one fire cropped up and then another and another, and I had to stay working.
When I finally looked out the window, I saw the bright, afternoon sun had given way to a blackened sky and I had to get home for a late dinner and to say goodnight to my kids. Before I packed up my bag, I took one last look at my screen and my unopened emails. I saw that my copy editor had taken a look at the story that I had written for the company newsletter and had gotten back to me with a “few comments.”
I tried to stop myself, I tried to leave without looking, but my curious nature got the best of me. Of course, I had to see what a “few comments” meant. I opened the document and instantly pulled back, clutching my hands over my eyes, like I had been shot. When I submitted the piece to be reviewed, I knew it would need some touching up. I was juggling multiple assignments and had raced to put the story together. This wasn’t a few comments though. This was a total rewrite. The “tracked changes” version of the document was full of deletions, wordy add-ons, and snide red comments in the margin. The document looked like a colorful Christmas tree.
In the hands of a master
Now before I get too far, I need say that I love a great editor. No one is above being edited. I love how a caring editor can make a poorly constructed analogy sing; pair down an overly dramatic description so that the reader can see the story themselves, instead of sitting in on a boring lecture with some unseen narrator; or, quite simply, turn a strong sentence into a masterful one. A good editor is something to be cherished, to raise your hands up to God, and to say thank you. A good editor is inspirational and invigorating all at the same time. I’ve been fortunate over the years to work with more than my fair share of great editors and I pray that I get to work with a few more in the years ahead. (In fact, I love writing this blog. I love the freedom of writing whatever I want, but I’d kill for a great editor.)
Of course, bad editors exist too. They stumble their way through a review, hacking away at a piece with a machete when a kid’s small pocketknife will do, erroneously changing “affect” to “effect,” raising questions that have little bearing on the story, and can be, downright, soul crushing.
Unfortunately, the world is full of both types of editors. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a great editor and never look back. If you’re not so lucky. well, hang in there and pray for mercy.
Taking a risk
In this particular instance, I took one more look at the editor’s comments and closed the email. I would look at it in the morning with a fresher perspective. I walked to my car defeated and drove home in a state of controlled anger. I was upset, but I saw so little of my family that I didn’t want to bring my work frustrations home to them.
Unfortunately, the morning changed nothing. When I got to work, I took a few of the changes, like I said, the piece needed work, but I took a risk and skipped many of the others that I thought failed to add anything of value to the reader. Fortunately, in this instance, I was able to get away with it. In many other cases over the years, I haven’t been as lucky.
The creative process
I absolutely love writing. I love the process of playing with words to create something from nothing, to touch someone else. Like any job, corporate writers have bosses that we work to make happy. We don’t get to write whatever we please and that can be challenging. I take solace that I’m not the only one in this situation. For years, I’ve saved a quote that I had found in an old encyclopedia attributed to Thomas Jefferson on the sting of would-be editors to his draft of the Declaration of Independence. “I find the pain of a little censure, even when it is unfounded, is more acute than the pleasure of much praise,” Jefferson said.
I think Jefferson was onto something there.
Writing can be a daunting task. The littlest changes can carry the biggest blows. In particular, people forget how challenging writing can be. Since everyone learned how to write “See Spot run” in primary school, they figure it can’t be all that difficult. I especially love the editors or reviewers, who when shown a piece of content feel the need to prove that they actually looked at the piece. They change “red candy-colored, 6.2 liter, V-8 corvette” to “a red car” or “actually” to “about.” It’s enough to send you to the psych ward.
Putting you over the edge!
These are actually minor complaints. For me, the worst is when you’ve spent hours preparing a document and an editor ravages your piece with complaints about tone and feel, but fails to offer specifics. I blame comments like these for the loss of my hair. Give me something. Tell me the writing has errors, tell me it should be placed at the bottom of the rabbit cage, but don’t tell me that the feel is off. Feedback like that is useless.
I know that I’m not the only writer who faces the internal challenge of endless editing or dealing in the workplace with good and bad reviewers. Here’s two interesting takes from bloggers that I like to read:
—How to stop the endless editing from Writing about . . . Writing.
—A Fresh Perspective from Zoewiezoe.
I’m a professional
As I’ve grown as a writer, I found that I’m more willing to tell investment managers, academics, business leaders, and a variety of other professionals that I’ve worked with over the years, that, yes, they are experts in their field, but I’m a professional in mine too. I don’t say this to brag. I explain it so that they know that I’m an expert in my own right and they should treat my copy with the same respect.
To quote Jefferson again, “Every single word was precisely chosen. I can assure you of that.”
Some wise words on writing and editing:
–“A good editor can make a respectable writer remarkable, just like a good parent helps a child become amazing.” ―Justin Alcala
–“An editor is like a priest or a psychiatrist; if you get the wrong one then you are better off alone.” ―Toni Morrison
–“I believe more in the scissors, than I do in the pencil.” —Truman Capote
–“There is no great writing, only great rewriting.” —Louis D. Brandeis
–“Omit needless words.” —William Strunk Jr.