Painting and the Editing Process

Happy Easter Weekend, everyone!

I have to apologize for missing our date these past couple of Fridays. Truth be told, we’re in the home stretches of renovating our house following a flood last year and we’ve been feeling antsy to get it all over and done with, so forgive me if these posts are a little light. Most of my role lately has been painting, and this past week’s project has been painting the insides of our kitchen cabinets in particular. It’s been tedious, but worth it; that sentiment and the way our cabinets now seem illuminated from within got me thinking about the editorial process.

Those of you that have worked with me before may be familiar with my advice that rarely does a single round of editing get a text polished to perfection. I’ll frequently recommend at least two rounds:

  1. The first catches all the small and distracting errors such as spelling, grammar, and consistency (a proofread, basically); once those are resolved…
  2. The second round is able to delve deeper and catch flaws of ideas, character, pacing, and so on.

It’s similar to painting these cabinets of mine – on the untreated, raw draft of the wood, a single once-over with the brush does very little. By the second go-round, things are looking a lot better, but on a few I’ve needed a third or even fourth coat before they’re the best they can be. I use a fatter, broader brush – a wider-toothed comb, if you will – to do the bulk of the work, and then go back with the thinner detail brush – the fine-tooted comb – to get those hard-to-spot places and the edges. I’ll do this as much as I need to until it’s polished.

I’m sharing this because it’s useful for you to know that your editor has a variety of mental tools or modes in which they work to get your project on track. While there are those of us that may employ several of these all in one sitting, it’s best to prepare for the possibility that more than one session may be necessary in order for you to get a thorough service, particularly on longer projects.

It is of course possible that a single round of a broader brush does the trick, just as it’s possible to receive a manuscript that – on the surface at least – doesn’t need touching at all. While I firmly believe “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, I also believe as a writer that an editor’s job is not just to catch that single typo in seventy pages, but to illuminate the project from within by making suggestions that can improve its overall caliber. In other words, there wasn’t exactly anything wrong with my unpainted cabinet interiors, but don’t they look so much more professional, so much brighter, now that they’re painted? Instead of focusing on the sub-par things, I can focus on the contents. Likewise would I feel negligent in keeping silent on conceptual, creative, or theoretical flaws or gaps that, when addressed, could bring a project from ‘Good’ to ‘Insightful and Engaging’.

It’s not complicated. Tedious, sometimes, but worth it. And we editors and cabinet-painters alike wouldn’t do it if we didn’t enjoy it.

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

When Editing is Bad

Happy Friday, everyone!

As all you poets are no doubt aware, tomorrow begins 2017’s Poem-a-Day April! As it says on the box, the goal is to write a poem a day for the entirety of April, which  – even as a poet who’s semi-successfully managed it a couple of times – I have to admit is pretty daunting. Not only am I writing this in solidarity and as a salute, but also as a chance to point out when editing can sometimes be a hindrance.

If you’re not a perfectionist, in a way I envy you. The fact of the matter is that sometimes – no matter what you’re writing – you can become preoccupied with making your first draft perfect on the first try. This can lead to a lot of false starts, over-writing, a sudden block partway through, or worse – never starting. If this happens enough it can even have longer-lasting effects on your overall confidence. All of these are killer if you have deadlines of any kind.

So say it with me: “It’s okay if it’s not perfect on the first try. Or the second, or the third, or…”

Say this, too: “What matters is that there’s something on the page. I can work with that ‘something’. I can’t work with ‘nothing’.”

Always keep those two things in mind, because I promise, you will get stuck otherwise. It happens to folks who have just started writing, and to folks who have been writing professionally their whole lives. You will get stuck on worrying whether you’ve got the right word, that you’ll forget all the others you were going to write after it. You’ll take a break to figure out the right metaphor or a good name, and you’ll get distracted for the next two days. You’ll pause to fact-check and end up down the rabbit-hole of the Internet.

Here are a few tactics to help you curb the tendency to become distracted by editing:

  1. Know there’s something you’re going to have to go back and change or check? Put in a placeholder or highlight it. One method I’ve heard of is the ‘ELEPHANT’ method, where if you can’t think of a word right then and there, just type ‘ELEPHANT’ and keep going – when you’re done drafting, you can search for all instances of ‘ELEPHANT’ and replace them when your mind is clearer. This helps you keep your flow.
  2. Set realistic deadlines if they help you, or remove them if they don’t. If you do choose to have deadlines, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet them. For example, you can start with something small like ‘write a poem before you have your second cup of coffee’ – it’s a deadline with a built-in reward. The idea is that when your brain grows accustomed to achieving small goals, it’s in a better position to achieve slightly larger goals, and so on.
  3. A friend of mine hand-writes her work and covers her prior lines with a sheet of paper to stop herself looking back and thus getting distracted by editing. You can feasibly do this with window-resizing on a computer, too.
  4. Devote specific times to writing, and specific times to editing, e.g. – ‘during the week I’ll write, but Saturdays I’ll edit’, or ‘I’m not going to look at these poems again until May, when Poem-a-Day April is over’. Knowing you’ve allotted time in advance can help put your mind at ease, as it’s no longer worried about missing the opportunity and feels bolstered by your organization skills.
  5. Remind yourself that beyond a simple spelling/grammar check, you can always leave the editing to – guess who! – your editor. That’s why this tag-team exists in the first place! Knowing someone else has your back can be instrumental to your process.

Although editing is still part of the creative process – and some would argue that it’s the most rewarding part – they are different modes of thinking and sometimes jostle for elbow room, to the detriment of each other. The fact remains that you cannot edit what isn’t there, therefore you should prioritize creation in the initial stages.

What are some of the hurdles you’ve encountered? Any other tactics for overcoming them that you’ve found useful?

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

P.S. – Good luck, poets! I’ll be writing alongside you this season.