August 10th, 2006

Editing is Not (Always) a Thankless Job

After freelancing for mumblemumble years, I’ve collected a number of editing experiences, some more positive than others. The editors I love (and many of them I do love) smooth prose I didn’t even notice was choppy, shift paragraphs so the piece flows better, and correct the spellings of names I misunderstood over the phone. They make my writing snap.

 

(Then there’s the other editors. The ones who change every “said” to a synonym like “commented,” “remarked,” “declared,” or—good God—“opined”; the ones who introduce grammatical errors into what was once a Strunk-and-White-approved piece; the ones who rephrase without checking first, so that—for instance—members of an Eastern Rite Catholic Church can read in the paper that, actually, they belong to a Greek Orthodox Church. But I won’t even mention those.)

 

With all these experiences to demonstrate the rights and wrongs of editing, I of course figured that I would be a brilliant editor of the very excellent magazine, Fibromyalgia AWARE. (Perhaps you haven’t heard of it? It’s not too late to fill that horrible void in your life. Go! Go now! www.fmaware.org/magazine.html)

 

But then I actually took on the job.

 

Just like any other activity a newbie expects to complete with greater ease and bigger success than the experts, editing is tougher than it looks.

 

It’s tough when I receive a piece that rambles hither and yon, a piece that requires me to take up my shears and a threaded needle, chop it all apart and stitch it together again in some semblance of coherence.

 

It’s tough when I receive a piece from a person I have a friendly relationship with, and I have to explain that her submission “doesn’t meet our needs at this time.” (Good thing I’ve received enough rejection letters to have internalized the jargon!)

 

It’s tough when I receive a strong, interesting piece that’s too long, and I have to make the decisions about which sections to cut—and how—so that the author’s voice isn’t sacrificed to the content.

 

And it’s especially tough when I see the magazine and discover typos in pieces I have reviewed so many times I could practically quote from them verbatim. (Not that that’s happened. Ever. Nor will it. [Ah, comedy—the refuge of the damned.]) 

It gets even tougher when a truly excellent contributor writes a nasty letter regarding the misspelling of her name, as though no one's ever been misspelled in the history of magazinery. (I don't want to trivialize her horrifying experience. But seriously: could the absence of a single letter possibly be as big a blow to her ego as having one of her features credited to a man named Joaquin? And yet I not only survived that peculiarity, I managed to bring it to my awesome editor's attention without the least bit of snippiness. Go figure.)

 

Time salves all wounds, as all writers of beloved clichés know—but a friendly note works even better. Today I got an email that made even that other contributor's snippy letter seem unimportant.

 

“Elisabeth,

“I want to thank you (again) for publishing the articles I wrote in Fibromyalgia AWARE and FMOnline. Your encouragement and belief in my ability has led to a regular freelance job for me—something I didn't do more than dream about before.

“I'll be writing a weekly column for the daily paper here. I'll be writing human interest stories about local people and events, along with the opportunity to have accompanying photos published as well.

“Thanks again.”

 

Greedy as I am for new assignments, and addicted as I am to the high of breaking into new markets, I was surprised how thrilled I was for this writer—and how proud of her I felt. A very editory feeling indeed!

 

Now if I can just restrain myself from forwarding this nice, nice note to that other snippy writer, I’ll really know I’ve come a long way.