Off We Go Into the Wild Red-Penciled Yonder; or The Hesitant Editor

Departures make me uneasy, reluctant. I check and recheck routes, dates, times. The prospect of change finds me jittery, mind racing ahead, anticipating the worst.

And maybe this is why first drafts and the entry into the editing process can make me edgy, gloomy. I fear ruination, loss of whatever brilliant impulse created this messy first draft. I fear that by leaving the original, I’ll never be able to get to my destination, much less to get home — home being, ultimately, the poem I want to write.

I start all drafts by hand in a notebook, and there they sit, scribbled, sometimes for almost a year until I can muster the courage to wade back into the fray. I extract those drafts, type them into a second draft on my computer, taking that raw utterance and forming something else. In doing so I stiffen it inevitably — visually, at the very least, taking the crabbed scrawl of my first work and tick ticking it into Times font on a white screen. This is when I start taking things out, playing with line breaks, and listening to hear if there is resonance inside, or whatever it is that gives potential to an utterance, the potential that there may be a poem inside. Have I packed enough in this draft to carry me away and then back home?

Of course, there is no real risk. I know that. I can save each and every draft, if I want, and trace my way back if I get lost. But reason has no standing where irrational fears hold sway. What I am really fearing is that I’m not up to the challenge. No longer a careless writer of what comes to mind, no playing child, but an editor, choicemaker; which words will I befriend, what voice will I take on?

And will any of the strangers I meet like the result? In editing mode, that question rises, grim as the sun on the hot sidewalk on the walk to the first day of school.

I wonder if other people share this editing dread. It’s normal to fall in love with a fresh draft of something exciting and new. Why mar the lovely face of this beloved with some virtual red mark of the editing pen? Surely it’s brilliant as is. First word, best word. And maybe it is. Maybe it is. But I won’t know until I voyage into the process of questioning what’s there — does this belong? does that sound best or is there a better way? does it contain more vitality if I turn it upside-down? — and come to the destination on the other side.

It’s only after I begin — taking away here, adding there, shifting, turning — do I regain courage, lose self-doubt. Once the journey begins, any journey, I’m fine. I find my way, lose it, find it again. And I stop worrying about the outcome, stop worst-case-scenarioizing, stop worrying whether I’ll make any friends.

I figure there’s no changing, at this point in my life, the way I respond to setting off from Point A to some distant Point B. I can only give it a nod, and start the car.


3 thoughts on “Off We Go Into the Wild Red-Penciled Yonder; or The Hesitant Editor

  1. Pingback: Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 13 – Via Negativa

  2. Actually, I rather enjoy editing and revising. For me there’s another kind of dread, though…that dread of what to do with the advancing pile of writing, the dread of organizing it (and submitting poems and creating a manuscript collection).

    I have trouble with that part. But then, I have been editing for most of my lifetime–one way or another–in my Day Jobs. So the tweaking and revising is second nature, but the bigger part of analysis (is this poem worth submitting? Where to submit it? Is any of my work any good?) throws me.


    • Once I get started, I tend to have a good time. I just have to get over my anticipatory dread. Like rocking back and forth before you jump into the whirling ropes for double dutch.

      Liked by 1 person

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