The Joy of Editing

I don’t come by editing naturally. Rather, I fall in love with the words as they emerge, and feel loathe to mess with them thereafter. Always have done. But I learned, as a graduate student in the biomedical sciences, that conscientious editing continues to hone a piece of writing, until it’s as good as one can make it. And even then, by listening carefully to the wise urgings of other readers, it can be even better.

So, for example, diary items often spring unbidden from some subterranean well of necessity, but I’ve learned to interpose a physical wall of sorts between the first draft and the final, published version. Readers of this diary from the beginning may recollect that during the first couple of months of the diary’s existence, the day’s entry usually appeared in the late afternoon. Gradually, however, my writing schedule changed, and now if the next day’s entry isn’t ready by about 3pm the day before, I start to feel ill-at-ease, anxious, worried. I like to have the piece sorted so as to allow an evening of dipping back, correcting and refining, so that the flow of words is (more or less) comprehensible to tomorrow’s reader. And even then, when I read through on the morning, I almost always find a word out of place, inappropriate verb positionings, infelicitous juxtapositions, repetition. It’s a bit like competitors pressing the buzzer on Radio 4’s ‘Just a Minute’ as I scan through what Ernie Wise might call ‘wot I wrote.’ And then I hit the Publish button sometime around 8am. There’s always opportunity to go back and deal with errors, and I’m delighted too to do that, but essentially the publishing point is when the piece is effectively done, having withstood as much editing as is feasible.

Since I began the Creative Writing course this past September, run by kindly Claire Lynn for Northumberland County Council’s continuing education service, the editing constraints have become more serious. At least half a dozen friendly critics will assess each other’s offerings when any given piece is ostensibly ‘finished’ and it almost always turns out to benefit greatly from just a bit more tweaking!

In fact, I’m driving Carrie mad these days by constant ‘improvements’ to my poetic attempts. But I hope that the finessing will eventually result in a piece of work that I can be delighted with for longer. First I have to force myself to fall out of love with the words laid down initially, and then commence to carve them all up again and again, before I can fall back in love with what I hope is the finished product. This process can be facilitated by external forces: to achieve a late entry into an unexpected poetry competition, for example, my ‘Seventeen Meditations on Autumn’ transmogrified this past week into a more succinct ‘Seven.’ But although I managed to meet the competition requirements, I really felt, after submitting the piece, that I’d ripped its heart out with cuts too savage, and so I reconfigured my effort for a second time. Now I hope the poem is better for all the editing ministrations. I guess the various edits are really three different pieces, each with their own merits, each with their own faults, but as is only natural, I love only the last version now; the others are foundlings, cast adrift and out-of-mind. The class and teacher will have another say tomorrow morning.

At some point, though, the editing must cease and the final result must be set in stone, finished. A songwriter might wish to modify their song, long after it’s been recorded, but when it’s done, it’s done. You can’t really go back. Soon this diary will be completed too. I hope I’ve given it all my very best shot.

1 Comment

  1. Larry,
    Edited or not – I really enjoy and look forward to your diary each day! Your subjects are very poignant and really make me think – as well as laugh out loud at times. Keep up the great work!
    Best wishes,

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