Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When Editing Hurts

Reading, Writing & Rambling proudly introduces guest blogger Amy Rosen, whose employer-issued business card reads, "Writer." She's smart, savvy, and shares DNA with Pat O'Dea Rosen, her mom.

Fiction writers dread revision letters and the copy editor's blue pencil, but writers who work for corporations or non-profits face editing five days a week, fifty weeks a year. It's not a job for the faint-hearted or egocentric.

Whether one writes fiction or non-fiction, some editorial changes hurt more than others. Here's Amy's take on a cut that sliced deep.

I fancy myself a writer by nature. But, I also make my living as a writer. And, after working for a newspaper, a lifestyle website, and a handful of clients and organizations, I’ve gotten used to being edited.

In fact, I appreciate being edited. I *need* to be edited. I have blind spots. I often read through my own mistakes; sometimes, I fail to see bias in my writing; and, I admit to being a little wordy from time to time. In years of seeing my work marked up daily (we’re talking hundreds of thousands of edits. At least), there have been a few times when I’ve thought an editor was unequivocally wrong and made changes that truly weakened the writing.

But, my job is to produce content that is right for my client or employer. And, if they choose to cut My Favorite Sentence to promote one of their priorities, as much as I may not agree, I cannot let the intrinsic writer get the better of the one drawing a paycheck.

Because, ultimately, it is not my name that appears on my work, but the name of the client or organization for which I’m working. My words are theirs. And, they’re not paying me to write The Great American Novel; they’re paying me to write material that furthers their mission.

The rational part of my brain really does understand that, but emotions have always trumped logic for this girl.

And so, when I see a line through a darling sentence or read a butchered, err, restructured version of a once carefully-crafted paragraph, I huff a little. And then, I fire off an e-mail to my mother, who always makes a very reasonable argument for the changes, and who never fails to remind me that few people get to see their words go out unchanged.

She’s right. And, I don’t think I’m such an ace writer that I expect my words to go out unchanged. But, I am a thoughtful writer. I’m a writer who wishes every sentence to be perfectly-strung and who struggles every time she loses a good one.

Steinbeck lobbied Twentieth Century Fox to remove his name from the credits of Lifeboat after learning of unapproved edits to his screenplay. Producer David Selznick made a passionate case for keeping the word “damn” in the script of Gone With the Wind when industry regulators cut it. I, obviously, whine to my mother. How do you handle edits you don’t agree with?


Ginger Calem said...

Great post! (And I think you're mom is super cool!)

My first thought in reading your question was, 'Like I'd be edited since I'm always right.' haha Of course I jest! Other than myself, my 'editors' are my crit partners and they are so great, I usually agree with their suggested changes for things that might not be working just right. Sometimes, even if I'm quite attached to a certain sentence or section, if the majority of them comment on it, I'll take a good look at it because that's a red flag that something is off and I'm not seeing it from the right perspective.

Thanks for sharing!

Lark Howard said...

Terrific post, Amy. I've worked for companies as a writer most of my adult life and I can relate to the frustration of having my brilliant copy edited, occasionally by executives who have far less writing skill than I do. I've learned to do my job and let go of the fate of my work--granted, that's taken a couple of decades to accomplish.

On the other hand, I've had writers working for me who have felt the sting of my red pencil. One young woman swore I'd edit the Lord's Prayer. I had to cringe. Then again, she was probably right.

Thanks for visiting us today. Hope you'll post again!

jinkwillis said...

Wow, very well put!! as I try to get bette as a writer, I realize the edit is the proof !!

And to have Pat is so helpful! Lucky girl!!

Great post!

Judythe Morgan said...

I read your blog title, Amy, and my first response was ALWAYS! And, as usual my first response is based totatlly on emotion. Who wants their baby cut and spliced and drawn through with red? No one... but we writers have to recognize what makes our work better, stronger and marketable. Most often that's a good editor.
You're fortunate to have your mom's shoulder to help through those emotional first reactions. Thanks for sharing a great thought provoking topic.
Good luck in your writing.

Julie Hedlund said...

Great post Amy! I used to write in the corporate world as well, and it's true you get very used to being edited, which overall is a good thing.

Now, with my more creative projects, the editing and critiques are sometimes harder to take because they seem more personal. I try to remind myself that the goal is the same - to produce the best piece of work possible, and unfortunately, that just can't be done alone in a vacuum.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Crit partners are tough editors, aren't they, Ginger? Ooh, and like, you, I get attached to certain sentences. I once had a writing teacher who'd say, "There are a million more words where those came from."

Thanks for stopping by, my super-cool friend--and on Writer's Butt Day!!

aroseisarose said...

Ginger--I'm with you. Sometimes, I need to see things from another perspective.

Lark--I actually have some suggestions for the Lord's Prayer :).

jinkwillis--that's a good way to track progress!

Judy--you're right. More times than not, my editors make me look good.

Julie--I'm constantly reminding myself of the same thing.

Thanks, all!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Lark, it's valuable to edit and be edited. You experience both sides of the red pencil--the wielding part and the sticking-it-in-your-eye part.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Thanks, Jink! Does this mean I have to get back to revising? Ugh.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

"Always" is right, Judythe. And emotion's my first response, too.

Writing doesn't get easier, does it.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

You're so wise, Julie.

Congrats on making it to week eleven of The Artist's Way. You're an inspiration.

Emma Burcart said...

I have yet to be professionally edited, but I will remember this post when that day comes!

Coleen Patrick said...

Well, blogging is one way I get to write without any big edits--and writing that fun, messy first draft.
I love this post title--makes me think of that faulkner quote about killing your darlings.

Sheila Seabrook said...

I love to be edited but I don't always like the edits. Since I usually get several critiques for each piece, if a certain line or section is commented on by more than one person, then I know I need to look at it more objectively.

But it's hard, no doubt about it. These are our babies. :)