The Editing Process…What Worked, and What Did Not Work

Henri-Lebasque-xx-Woman-Writing-xx-Private-collection Inquiring minds want to know: How much did the editing process affect what your final submission is/will be? What would you like to see done differently next time? What worked for you? What advice would you give to other writing groups about the editing process?  

It took us a long time (relatively speaking) to have serious, intense editing sessions. I think that delay was due to 1) us being novices at editing, and 2) our writing group still being kind of “new”, meaning we weren’t quite ready to say non-positive things, no matter how necessary and constructive. For me and my poems, any excellence we have is due to the comments from those editing meetings. So many helpful, useful things were brought up, none of which were said or even hinted at in earlier editing discussions. Do not be afraid of doing intense, detailed editing of each other’s work! Next time, we need to do serious, detailed – and always constructive – editing sooner. I am looking forward to our next anthology! P.S. Note the “looking forward to” is not the same thing as “must start immediately”; I have no problem taking a year or two break and just have ordinary writing group meetings before starting the next anthology.

Jules Dickinson, ‘77

We had each done a first reading and response of someone else’s submissions—and the results were nearly universally complimentary. The editing process wouldn’t have gone anywhere without Emily and Liz insisting that we challenge ourselves to do really critical re-readings and their reminder that editing someone else’s work is a way to hone one’s own writing skills. With that push, we dove in. “Critical” didn’t mean “Yuck, I can’t stand that.” Rather it came across as questions about order, clarification, and voice, like “We want the first part to be as strong as the last,” and “Let’s work on the title.” I got good honest critique on one of my poems and am working on the revision this week. I have no doubt that it will be stronger, and if it isn’t, I trust that my writing friends will tell me.

Mary Ann Woodruff, ‘60

The editing process was absolutely critical for me. I particularly liked the fact that first we did a one-on-one edit and then a re-write which was followed by a group edit. The process gave me important feedback from “the readers” which allowed me to see my piece through the eyes of others and to refine and, hopefully, improve it!

Sue Swanson, ‘60

I have been in writing groups and worked with writers who prefer not to revise their work. They want it to be sufficient as it is when it reaches others’ eyes for the first time. And it is sufficient. That’s an important part of writing, of getting yourself to write, of expressing thoughts, memories, emotions that need to come out. The writing itself, just moving ideas from unexpressed to expressed, influences the world. Shouldn’t that be enough?

Yes. It is enough. But there’s this other piece, that comes afterwards, a piece that strengthens your relationship with your creativity and your voice, and that is the editing and revision process. I was willing to forgo it while doing the Angled Road project because our group’s relationship and support for the writing itself is rare and precious. Our decision to go deeper has been inspiring and rewarding. Through the group’s analysis of my poetry, I took a step toward accepting the differences between the art I envisioned and the art I created, gaining respect for the lesser result. Closely reading my colleagues’ work, I learned more about my own voice while respecting theirs.

Emily Dietrich, ‘85

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