Editing at Backchannels Journal

What’s the Deal with Editing?

Editing is sort of a secret skill. Every book we’ve ever read, every movie we watched, every textbook, description of an art piece, play program… all of them were written, then edited likely over and over again, often by teams of people, until they become the polished work we’re used to. We don’t talk about editing because it’s not glamorous, it doesn’t touch that other-wordly flow that creation can (though it gets close), and it’s hard work. But it’s absolutely necessary and often transforms good works into great ones.

Minimally, editing makes stuff easier to read, takes care of punctuation and grammar problems, and makes sure whatever we’re looking at is understandable. In the best cases, editing elevates work to its highest possible form, making the strengths of the writer and the writing truly shine.

There are no absolutes in writing or any art, though, and what one editor loves another may despise. It’s always just humans making judgement calls as to what works and what doesn’t for an imagined mass readership that’s actually just more individuals understanding and enjoying in vastly different contexts. 

Before I went to school to learn the ins-and-outs of writing, I thought editors just proofread and the magic came from the “good” writers.

I learned:

1.) There are no “good” writers, just some folks with capacity for good ideas, learned skills, tenacity, and good luck and 

2.) All writing benefits from skilled editing. All writing, no exceptions.

I think editing matters precisely because writing is so subjective–we need more eyes, more minds, more hearts looking at what we’ve made and shoring up the weak points we can’t see. All writing–and I mean all writing, from all writers, always–can use some shoring up. I’ve read submissions from famous, successful writers that just didn’t cut it. No one wakes up every day ready to spin literary gold from their fingertips. Unless you’re writing in a journal, writing is collaboration. It’s from you to your audience, and getting more people to help get your point across as effectively and powerfully as possible is a good thing.

To be honest, I hate editing my own stuff. I’m a better editor than writer, though, so I have to go over it again and again to polish it enough to communicate effectively. But ugh, to comb through with a removed eye to find where my sentences are too scant or clunky, where I assume the reader has exactly the same perspective I do and leave them confused, where I leap from idea to idea with no bridge for the reader to follow… oh look, I messed up here, and here, and here too. I hate it. But my writing isn’t for me. It’s for others, so if I have the audacity to take up their time reading my stuff, I should at least give it my all.

The next step is better, when I give my work to a friendly set of eyes to look it over and they tell me what’s missing, what’s too much, what needs clarification, what works. If I’ve put a lot into it, it’s still hard to hear what’s not working that I thought I addressed. Sometimes taking time between steps helps. But it can still be tough.

And because it’s hard sometimes, I gotta say how grateful I am to the people I get to work with through Backchannels. I see the work sent to me as in-progress, in a way, with some pieces further down that path than others. Everyone I’ve sent feedback to (and that’s a lot of people) has been gracious and engaged in conversation about their work in profoundly satisfying ways. It’s immensely easier to work on someone else’s piece than my own. It’s hard work, but also so incredibly fun. To get to work intimately on your work, line-by-line, word-by-word, to try to best bring out your voice and your message, is an incredible gift. 

We’ll offer paid editing services soon so we spend time to work closely with more people but it won’t stop the work we do with our submitters, the heart and soul of this endeavor. And as we grow and finding the time to make this work as volunteers becomes more challenging, we’re launching a patreon so supporters can help out at whatever level feels good but the burden of keeping us going never falls on our submitters. We have goals of compensating writers and artists, creating print anthologies, and more—but first things first, keep doing the work we do with you, our readers and creators, and do it the best we can.

Thanks, and I can’t wait to do more.

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