The Art of Editing

I started this blog almost two years ago, but it wasn’t until early this summer that I really started to write consistently. The pandemic took a toll on my toy design business, and I needed to pivot to something that could lead to a more consistent career. I can’t claim yet that my idea of becoming a writer has worked out, but in the short time of just a few months I’ve learned a bit about the “job” side of writing.

Last week I landed my first freelance writing gig, and for the past few days I’ve been going through the training of learning the company’s writing style and CMS. They also want to see if I can write more than just barfing my thoughts into a blog post. That said, it’s a very flattering and encouraging thing to know that I got the job because of these very blog posts. It’s not often that I set out to do something and it actually works! Makes me kind of feel like Hannibal from the A-Team, which is a new feeling, as plans rarely come together for me.

One aspect of the training is to pick a topic from a list and submit 400-900 words. I’d say that all of the 15 or so topics were familiar to me and in my wheelhouse, but I picked one that I knew I had a lot to say about and would be really hard to screw up. Turns out I said too much about it and it’s still to be determined whether I screwed it up or not. Tonight, I turned in my third draft to my editor (really cool to say that), which is normal, but this was the first time that all these edits finally made sense.

Until now, I had a bit of certitude, borderline arrogance, that I would be able to knock this thing out of the park in fewer tries than most. With the first draft’s edits I was mostly open to hearing what I could do differently and what was expected of my writing. When the second edits came in, I started to feel like my editor was kind of playing their power card and imposing their station on me. I thought there was no way that what I had written was so full of the wrong stuff. No “we” or “I” or “us” statements allowed. No room for personal anecdotes. And definitely get rid of your sense of humor. Granted, my sense of humor could be looked at as an acquired taste for some. And despite the subtitle of my own blog here, some of my thoughts didn’t make sense to my editor. The irony was sloppily laughing directly into my face, spittle, and all.

I submitted my second draft and really had no idea what to expect. By 3pm today I had to get ready to head to my fifth job and still hadn’t heard back about my inevitable third draft. But then I started thinking that maybe I hadn’t heard back because they realized I wasn’t a good fit after all. And the reason it was taking so long to respond was because they were assembling all their best lawyers to draft some cancelation of my contract. Was I going to jail? Was I going to get audited? Were they going to take my dog and comic books? Shit, they’re going to revoke my nerd cred!

When I got home tonight there was an email from my editor with their third, and final, edits. I was relieved, but also a bit sour. Despite my fears, somewhere in the back of my brain I thought maybe my second draft was going to be good enough and I’d move on to the next stage. The email was full of edits that at first seemed redundant from the last set. But as I sat down and started to make the changes, I felt like Finn in The Force Awakens with my First Order trooper armor starting to fall off, piece by piece, landing dead in the Tatooine sands. My editor had made the point that they could see my love and passion for the topic, but the piece had to be digestible to the general audience. I kept that in mind as I worked through the article, again. But by the end it made total sense. I had cut out about 300 words. I was able to see redundancies and some sentences that distracted from the narrative. And what I was left with was a concise and relevant argument for the point of my article that upheld the title of the piece. And it was under 500 words.

Finn, sans armor in The Force Awakens

When I turned it in, I added a little sidenote to my editor thanking them for the lesson. Given the situation, it was hard to make it not sound like I was blowing smoke or brown-nosing, but I really wanted to express my sincere appreciation for their talent. Editing is something that readers take for granted, and most writers don’t appreciate.

If all goes well, I should have my first officially published article sometime next week! That’s exciting. And although this (as with many freelance writing gigs) doesn’t pay much, it’s a 10.5” sized shoe in the door, which is almost a full foot.

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