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?

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?

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I’d Like To Order A World Without A Side of Ads, please

Wherever you go, whatever you look at (books, TV, movies, magazines, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) advertisements have so insidiously integrated themselves into media that as our eyes flick at speed across the screen (or page) we absorb, and acknowledge, commercial messages almost as instantaneously as we move on to the next blurb of text waiting to be read. There is a world out there that doesn’t feed its users more advertising content than editorial content, but it lies under the surface of mainstream media. You simply have to exercise a little effort to find it. Recently I came across a brand new women’s magazine called Lucia Journal. Lucia is all about providing a millennial audience with millennial content, without millennial consumerism. Uhm yes, I’ll take a saucy magazine please, and hold the ads.

 

Have you read a magazine without advertisements? Watched a movie without product placements? If you have, how often does this happen? Once a day, once a month, maybe more like once a year or even less infrequently. For some of us it’s never. Especially if you enjoy pop culture. What if you could have your women’s magazine, without unnaturally beautiful models selling glossy products? We are so socially saturated with commercials and advertisements that they have become akin to the white noise of life — a constant humming of capitalism in the background. Our over-taxed brains, at least brains that function as they are meant to, are capable of filtering out the burden of contemporary stimuli. And so, the abundance of PR hoopla fades into the periphery of our day, rarely acknowledged but constantly and consistently present. It is like a shadow, not quite imperceptible and never far from hand; a digitized haze of information overlaying everything. No longer is it a right to live in a world without commercial bombardment or information overload. It is the right of successful high-profile companies to shovel information down your throat at every turn. That this is the reality of our modern world, is a “fact” so easily accepted we don’t even realize we ourselves are the ones who allow it to perpetuate.  Advertising is a simple and straightforward way to subsidize, or even eliminate, the cost of the cultural media we are so hungry to consume. It is sensible, and it is like drowning in sound you think you barely hear or sinking under the weight images you think you barely see.

and coffee is empty. but pages are full. a good morning. #handwrite #kickstarter #kickstartlucia #givevoicetoyourheart

A post shared by Lucia Journal (@luciajournal) on

 

We can choose to live differently. We can support cultural media that eschews commercialism, that strives to be inclusive and body positive, and speaks with a strong, clear and witty voice. We can partake in a media revolution by backing publications like Lucia, that turn to Kickstarter and crowd sourcing to launch themselves, even if its a struggle, even if it’s much harder than allowing advertising to infiltrate their pages. But, really, what is the difference between a magazine that costs you $6 and one that costs you $12? Aside from the equivalent of your over-priced soy latte, the difference is a series of moments without white noise buzzing in your ear.

- Jenn Schleich

We Go Way Back, Snow and Me

Check out my latest column in The Cliffhanger!

By Jennifer Schleich

“I close my eyes and breathe deeply; I smell snow. That magical, wonderful, cold smell that means winter is coming.

There are two scents which I find extremely attractive: the smell of fresh cut grass and the smell of snow. Throw out your cologne – who needs it? I’m literally smiling just thinking about it. It’s already snowed twice. I even saw some sticking to the ground briefly one morning. It might be too early for a blanket of snow but it’s coming. I know it and I can smell it in the air.

I know that look I get sometimes. You know that look right? The leery sideways glance that says this girl is crazy. But I’ll tell you I’m never wrong (at least in this aspect of my life). It’s a strange thing, half scent and half feeling. The scent: cold, but humid, and clean and fresh. The feeling: a shiver. Maybe that part is a brisk north wind. To me the smell of imminent snowfall is completely natural. It’s mind boggling that some have never experienced it.

Johan Lundström is a smell and taste researcher in Philadelphia. He says you can’t smell snow. I say phooey to him. He argues the mucus layer in our smell receptors dries up during the winter, but loosens when humidity rises, such as right before a snow storm. According to Mr. Johan Lundström, if you are outside during this transition your sense of smell literally becomes more acute. He says over time some people have associated this change with oncoming snow. Johan Lundström likes to take the magic out of life.

The latent scientist in me is fascinated, but my imagination is disgruntled. I like to think my new acute sense of smell during changing weather gives me the “power” to experience the subtle smell of snow.

I’m sure I can smell snow. Is that crazy?

Just think about snow.

But don’t get carried away. Don’t think about February and eight foot snow banks, because that’s depressing. Think about November, December, the first snow flakes, the Christmas lights, the glitz and glam. Think about how freshly fallen snow glitters on the ground. Think about fur coats and wool scarves and the smell of cinnamon, pine needles and wood smoke. Think about little children rushing outside in their shiny snow gear to build a shiny snow family. Think about sleigh rides and jingle bells. Think about the crystalline geometric patterns of frost climbing up the windowpanes but don’t think about your energy bill if you have frost climbing up your windowpanes.

That’s how I feel when I smell snow. There’s nothing crazy about that.”