Over Editing and The Creative Process

Editors are often great at what they do and they are an essential cog in the editorial machinery, but sometimes editors are not so great. Sometimes editors become micro-managers. Sometimes editors over edit, again and again, without justifiable cause, because a writer said something in a way, they themselves, would not have said it. Over editing puts artistic diversity at risk and is one of the greatest detriments to a productive editorial process.

Over editing makes writers wary of submitting their work for publication, it makes writers lose confidence in their artistic abilities (stylistic and technical) and it stifles the diversification of distinct voices that speak to the multitude and variance of the modern human experience. Media outlets employ multiple writers for the sake of having multiple voices that appeal to widely disparate demographics. If all those diverse voices are channelled through one outlet, an editor who over edits work, then the voices coming out on the other end lose their authenticity. They become voices that sound too similar, saying things that are all the same. A unified voice is not the same thing as an identical voice.

I doubt there is a writer out there who hasn’t come across at least one editor who over edits. I do work as an editor. I myself, have fallen into the trap of over editing. It’s easy to become carried away. One of the best skills you can hone is to detach yourself from another writer’s work. To look at it objectively and pinpoint problem areas, that is a skill that helps everyone. Re-writing for the pure sake of style smothers artistic expression and creates hostility  in an environment that should be creatively productive.

Would you paint over another artist’s canvas?

Imagine if I was a painter and the curator of the gallery who displayed my work came along and said, ‘You know, I think this colour would have been better here, and if I were you I would have used a different brush stroke there… can you just move for a second.” Then, in the blink of an eye she’d whipped out a brush and palette and smothered a unique and irreplaceable utterance of my soul in fresh globs of angry pigment, obscuring the reality of my voice.

How would you react to that? With resentment? Anger? I would. I do. I boil inside when my work is over edited. I hammer at my keyboard and send scathing private messages to my Facebook gal pals about how I hate her hate her hate her (or him). I scribble nasty comments on my pages, envision stabbing said editor in the eyes with my vicious pen. After my initial rage burns away I’m left feeling empty, with a single unanswerable question hanging in my mind.


Why was your sentence, your new sentence, which spoke my ideas in the most unfamiliar of words, so much better than mine? It wasn’t grammar, I know my grammar was fine, if not impeccable. It was that my voice and your voice didn’t mesh. When you read my words, you only heard how your words would say it. You ruffled your feathers because I express differently than you. Then, you took your mighty pen and scribbled all over my text, inserting yourself—your voice—into my story. And, when I ask, when I am direct, the answer is always the same: I don’t see what you’re talking about, it looks fine to me.

Working with an editor should be about polishing, improving and clarifying your writing. It should be a mutually positive experience. It should not leave your writers feeling neurotic and emotional. It shouldn’t be disheartening and disempowering. The worst feeling in the world is receiving an email from an editor who has a history of over editing your work. Before you even open it you know whatever it says will be negative, know whatever you’re about to read printed on the page will be written with a voice that’s unrecognizable.

Grammar. It’s important. A sentence can’t possibly convey an idea accurately to a reader if it isn’t constructed properly. If a sentence is poorly constructed, the meaning can become twisted or the sentence can be construed in multiple ways, depending on how it’s read. Editing for grammar, that’s good. Verbosity. It’s, well, verbose. Words, for the sake of words; sometimes writers get carried away with language. Editing to make a work more concise, that’s good. Cohesion. Connecting paragraphs and ideas in the best order is important. Editing for smoother movement through a text, that’s good. The inverted pyramid. The subject and the most important bits first, because modern readers have a tendency to lose focus. Reorganization can have great benefits to a text.

Editing to rip apart a writer’s works, to extract their specific and purposeful choice of words, and insert your own words, your own voice, to make yourself more comfortable, that’s wrong. That’s bad. Your writer’s experience is unique, he or she brought something to their article or story that you could never have imbibed in it, and when you start meddling with their language and their imagery you impede the transmission of their intended message to it’s intended audience.

This is not a hate on editors. Editors are good. Editors make our writing better. Editors can be a guiding force that push their writers to greater heights. However, we should remain vigilant against over editing. Writers are artists too and there is nothing that protects our work from a micro-managing editor, except the singular choice to withdraw our story, or article, from publication. That’s not enough.

p.s. do you like my nod to Iain Banks?

Credit: Kate Beaton

Oh Henrietta – Google Doodle Celebrates Canadian Icon

Art: Kate Beaton
Art: Kate Beaton

By Jennifer Schleich

December 18, 1849 was a bright day for Canadian women. At the time not so much, but certainly in retrospect; it was the day Henrietta Muir Edwards, a renowned Canadian women’s rights activist, was born.

If she were alive now she would be 165 years old. As such Google is showing props with a vintage-styled Google Doodle, designed by Nova Scotian comic strip artist Kate Beaton, about women’s rights and the suffrage movement, of which Edwards was an integral player.

She was a woman who made things happen for women, and who “fought for it all with unflappable conviction”, writes Beaton about her doodle.

If not for Edwards and her famous four companions, I might not be a person today – like they were not persons during much of their lives. Imagine that, not being a person. Some people don’t have to imagine: still in parts of our world today are huge disparities in human and civil rights.

“[She] deserves a wider recognition for her work,” adds Beaton. “She fought for women’s rights, women’s education, women’s work and women’s health, across the country and from a very young age… she allied herself with likeminded activists and founded a number of movements and societies to improve the lives of women.”

An accomplished writer, Edwards developed the first Canadian magazine for working women and was the author of several books on the legal status of women.

Thanks to the work of Edwards and her colleagues Canadian women were formally granted the right to vote, outside of wartime, in federal elections in 1919 and beginning in 1929 women were finally recognized as persons. However, if you were a first nations woman during the early 20th century you were dually deprived of rights and freedoms. Despite the 1929 Privy Council declaration of women as persons under the law, first nations women in Canada didn’t receive the unrestricted right to vote until 1960.

During her celebratory speech following the Privy Council’s decision to recognize women as persons, she is quoted as thanking all those who supported her and her fellow activists, women and men alike, except, “not perhaps the Judges on the Supreme Court of Canada, but certainly the Lords on the Privy Council!”

Emily Murphy, Nelly McClung, Irene Parlby and Louise McKinney were the other four women who were part of the group known as the “Famous 5”.

(Art by Kate Beaton)

A little pot of colour

We dabbled in colour in art class this week, which was a nice break from all the black and white and a perfect kick-off to autumn. Strictly speaking, autumn isn’t nearly as colourful as spring or summer, but the colours are so rich and vibrant that it more then makes up for the pale blue sky and disappearing green. Ancient metal tractors in bold hues, paint peeling and deep red rust peeking through, knee deep in golden hay fields. Crinkled and drying yellow, red, purple, orange leaves twirling to the earth. White capped deeply blue waves. Deer scattered at the forests’ edge. In-your-face orange pumpkin patches. Markets polka-dotted by bountiful butternut and acorn squash. And dark roast coffee, hot chocolate, pumpkin spice latte; it even smells and tastes rich.

Little Pot