Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I edit books nearly every day. Editing for Excitable Gals will begin once Loose-ID receives the contract. I've just received the first edits on Dare to Dream and Daringly Delicious should be ready this week as well. It's going to be a fun week, but thankfully I have a thicker skin for it as opposed to my very first experience...

(cue the wavy lines and gentle regression harp music)

When I was in the fifth grade my school decided to have the students produce a quarterly newspaper - one of those white-paper Xerox, ego-boost jobs you could take home to your parents to show your byline or picture. Each class was to contribute something creative for the first issue, and I decided to write a poem about Girl Scouting, which I enjoyed doing before landing into a Cadette troop of self-absorbed c*nts (but that's a different session for my shrink).

I labored over this string of rhyming verse. ABAB, then over again, lauding the many wonderful aspects of the organization: the green asexual jumpers, the cookies, the patches. Oh, to know my sense of accomplishment on finishing. I felt proud. I was a writer.

I showed my parents. Look, I wrote a poem. Aren't I creative? Isn't this the best thing you've ever read? They loved it, and damned if they didn't make me change nearly every fricking line.

So I take the edited version to Sister Mary Paul. My name was still on it, I maintained the concept. I was above constructive criticism, I wrote a poem for the school newspaper. Sister loved, and damned if she didn't make me change nearly every line back.

I don't remember the whole poem now, but the final line sticks out clearly: So many badges, so many projects / That they all can't be done. I felt this was true. Have you seen the Girl Scout badge book? I don't know what it's like now, but back in the day there must have been 200 badges to claim. Tall order for a ten-year-old with enough hands on her time.

Sister said I should change the line to can be done.

That didn't make sense to me. The point of the poem was to present the endless possibilities within Scouting, that so much is available to do it spills over the average time-span of a Girl Scout. There are limits, you know. You can't be earning Junior badges when you're a Senior.

"But it's not impossible, is it?" Sister posed. So the line changed again. By the time my "editors" were done there was so much eraser scarring on the notepaper that it looked like a car ran over it. To further my embarassment, Sister read the edited, edited version before the class with the following disclaimer. "Kathryn's poem is sloppy and dirty, so we won't be turning it in..."

(and we're back)

Is editing any different today? Thank Ged the track changes function doesn't leave behind any eraser shreds.


Will Belegon said...

Hmmmm... I don't really know if editing has changed, simply because I lack the perspective of an earlier experience. By which I mean, as an editor.

In the case you cited about the poem, I have three thoughts. One, a person who claims to be an editor while forcing a fundamental change in the meaning of a poem on the poet is not an editor. They are a re-writer.

Two, the area in which I feel an editor's touch should always be the lightest is in poetry.

Three, if I witnessed such an irresponsible denigration of a person's work in front of a class, my response would be immediate, caustic and very vocal. And my disciplinary record from my own school days indicates that my response would have been the same then as it is now.

Kat Lively / Leigh Ellwood said...

Well, she was a nun and I was ten. That I'm still writing twenty-six years later must say something about my tenacity...or preference toward masochism. :)

Will Belegon said...

Remind's me of my high school classroom discussion with Father Wasco, about how all rock songs were written by the devil...

I cited U2's "Forty" and asked him if he were certain of it. He said yes multiple times before I showed him Psalm 40 and the lyrics.

He was not amused.