Their Words, Not Yours

pexels-photo-256798My two ongoing writing projects are vastly different. One is my third novel, first draft about 90% completed but stalled because of competing priorities. The other is not my work. I am performing the duties of editing, formatting, and publishing. Both will likely be out sometime in 2018.

While I am sworn to secrecy at the moment as to the author and topic of the second work, I know the author, and her story, quite well. Her work is an anthology of sorts, describing events, conquered obstacles, and personal revelations over several decades. It is a pleasure to work on this – just hearing (and in some cases reliving) the tales alone has been wonderful.

Therein is the genesis of a problem I should have seen coming. Being aware of the stories that spun some some vignettes (and mentioned in a couple as well), I began to reword some of her sections in my words based on my memories. I had no malicious intent, nor was I driven by insecurity. I simply was doing for her in the editing process what I do for myself constantly with my works – write, edit, refine, edit, refine, and so on.

Early on I realized I was not simply editing her words – I was replacing them. And not just words. I found myself overruling her style, imposing mine on her work. Again, no malicious intent – my style was better than hers. After all, I was the editor! Oh how arrogant . . .

Once that epiphany hit me, I stopped. Then I really began to read her story through her words. By doing so, I began to unfurl her style – different than mine, unique, and in many instances, better. The primary reason her style trumped mine is because of just that – it was hers, and this was her story.

I trashed the majority of the initial edits and started the process again. This time, I read to uncover her fluidity of prose, riding the descriptors and the twists and turns as she wove her unique tapestries. Instead of taking the blanket and tossing it out in favor of another I liked, I began mending small holes here and there, preserving and (hopefully) enhancing her artistic uniqueness. The work remained completely hers this time – as it should be.

I’m not a professional editor, nor am I trained as such, but I imagine there are courses that teach what I learned above through experience, If there are not, there should be. After all, editors may be writers, but their creativity must be tempered when refining another’s work, else there exists the danger that the original tale, with all of its intricacies in word and form, may be watered down or lost completely.

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