Writers need to be a bit tough-skinned if they want to improve their poetry and prose. It’s the only way I know to have a tight, well-developed story or article that’s smooth, correctly punctuated, interesting, and easy reading. Someone* said easy reading meant hard writing. Focus, diligence, and the discipline to stay with it, editing and revising—perhaps several times, are necessary.
Way back when, I published a human relations text—or rather, I wrote it, and Prentice-Hall published it. I was naïve then, even more than I am now, thirty years later. No one told me anything about revisions and edits. I knew in a vague sort of way that other people would look at it before my fifteen chapters were put into book form, but I figured my work was basically done when I mailed the manuscript. Yes, mailed.
It’s an understatement to say things have changed. In 2019, every publication that I’m familiar with solicits electronic manuscripts only. Period. As a disclaimer, my world is a small one compared to writers who compose and submit more regularly and widely than I. I’m sure there are publishers who still accept snail mail. I just don’t know about them.
Back to the hard work and thick skin required of a successful* writer, editing and revising are fundamental. Without the help of my hometown writing group, I’d still be sprinkling “it” all over the page(s), never guessing I needed to be more specific. Same thing with passive voice. My verbs passively showed up in every other sentence until a peer-editor circled each one in a nonfiction piece I’d written and encouraged me to think of something stronger for each one. At first I balked. But then I accepted the challenge and found it fun. Rewarding too.
Not long after I sent the completed (or so I thought) manuscript to Prentice-Hall, I received a large manila envelope containing the edited version. Not expecting any serious issues, I opened the envelope and glared in disbelief. The first page was red, bleeding with editorial recommendations and corrections. It’s been a long time (1989), so I can’t remember whether every page was like that, but I do recall my feelings of astonishment and well, anger.
I liked my sentence structure and word choice. How dare they change things!
I soon calmed down. Reading the editor’s notes and learning the various editorial marks and what they meant took time. Here’s what I learned. He (a male in this case) was correct, and his job was to make my work cleaner and clearer. As well as I can recall, I followed each directive. The text had a “good run” for a couple of years, but there was no second edition.
I don’t need an editor or member of my critique group to let me know I’ve strayed from my original purpose of the importance of editing and revising. Next time, I’ll do a better job of being more specific in dos and don’ts that I’ve recently learned. For example, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO USE AN APOSTROPHE TO PLURALIZE A WORD says the copy chief of Random House Benjamin Dreyer. (Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, page 32).
*Was it Maya Angelou, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Hood,Anthony Trollope, Lord Byron, or someone else?
*To some writers, successful means to have a best seller, win the Pulitzer, have name recognition wherever she goes, or make a lot of money. Not me. It’s not because I’m too lazy, uninspired, or unfocused. I’m committed to writing a little something each day and am happy/eager to share it, but my life is too full to devote more time to it. Writing blogs makes me happy, and if you’ve read this far, that makes me feel successful.