On Editing

~~The only two resolutions I made in January were to meet my reading goal for the year and to include at least six biographies on that list. The minute I made the second resolution, I knew I was kidding myself, but with good intentions, I borrowed some from the library. When I got home with Billy Graham’s tome, I was just overwhelmed with the thought of 800 pages of non-fiction and I gave up the idea entirely. However, during the process of searching for something I might actually read, by happy accident I stumbled across Jerry Jenkins’ book, Writing for the Soul and then Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, both of which describe the writing process from the perspective of two wildly dissimilar creative minds. I have loved every word of each book, and can’t wait to find another like them. Both books are very much auto-biographical so I’m giving myself a pass and considering this resolution fulfilled, at least in part.

I’m in the pages of Anne Lamott’s book now where she describes the feeling a writer has as she  holds up her newborn child and asks if it’s ugly…otherwise known as editing. I thought I was the only one who was possessive, defensive, neurotic and insecure about every word I’ve ever put on the page. What comfort to know that there are other crazies out there just like me!! (Be afraid!) A few weeks ago, the sweet little thing that does amazing (ah-maze-ing) work raising two little babies and promoting Verse By Verse suggested that we contributing writers submit our work to her for a quick look-see before we post to the site. I knew instantly that she was targeting me. I knew for certain that she was trying in her southern “bless-her-heart” style to tell me that my babies are ugly. It isn’t pride. It’s certainly not that I think I am above being edited. Quite the opposite. I am convinced that I am a certifiable lunatic who never mastered the English language or the rules of grammar even though I have a degree (and the Associated Press Style Manual exam score) to prove otherwise. It’s the abject humiliation I fear! Though I believe I was (mostly) gracious in my eventual response to the request, that (hopefully) gracious façade was entirely manufactured to cover my terror, and I began immediately to frantically edit every piece she’s ever seen posted to the site. Every line. Every word. Every jot. Every tittle. Like a lunatic.

For Christmas this year my husband got me a new hard drive with the latest Word software. I couldn’t begin to tell you what version it is –that is not my thing. If there is a blank page to put black letters on, I’m all good. As I sat down to use the new program for the first time I noticed lots of little red and green lines appearing in my text. It annoyed me no end. I asked my husband what all that stuff was and he said that it was the editing software telling me that I had some grammatical problem.

Um…excuse me?!

Yep. Apparently, I write in passive voice. I use a lot of slang and unprofessional contractions. I have absolutely no concept of where to put a comma, and my understanding of the semi-colon went missing somewhere between Sophomore Journalism and middle age. All is lost. My fears are confirmed. Humiliation has set in and I want to erase everything that has ever been published before this moment and find a job on a worm farm. (Right now my ‘editor’ is screaming at me, “passive voice passive voice passive voice!!!”). The thing is, though, I’m oddly grateful for the new insight. I didn’t know these glaring issues have had you distracted with correcting my grammar in your head as you read…if you have kept reading. (I don’t usually. One misapplied your / you’re and it’s all over for me.) 

Right now you are wondering what in the Sam Hill I’m rambling about and if you have somehow stumbled across the wrong website - oh so wrong. But I do have a point to make. I wonder if anyone has ever told you that your baby is ugly. I don’t have many friends who will. In fact, it is a point of contention between my best friend and me. She is a pleaser. She would not tell me I had spinach in my teeth if I were on my way to the portrait studio. She never tells me when my baby is ugly. And I’m not talking about putting silly words on a page. I’m talking about real life now. I’m talking about when the whining begins, when the faith falters, when the sin sits up and demands its due. Do you have an editor for those times? I don’t. And I wish I did.

I won’t begin to pretend that I like it when I get…feedback. Who does? It means we’ve been caught red-handed and we have to account for something inexplicable and stupid, some complete lack of judgment or flat out self-justified rebellion. And we have to make corrections. Sigh. I’m sure that my defensive response to being exposed is one reason the people closest to me are loathe to point out my…issues. But I’m telling you, I need it. I’m like an unruly child who never quite made the transition to full adult maturity. You might not know it on the outside but on the inside…oh, who am I kidding? Everyone who knows me knows that I am a rebel without a cause (sorry for the cliché, but when the shoe fits…). This is why I need an editor: a person more determined to perfect me than I am. Someone who will dig in and insist that I use an active voice in spite of me screaming back at them that I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care!!! I do, actually. Even though it hurts. Even though I pound the keyboard as I make the necessary changes. The Holy Spirit functions as editor, but His ways are gentle, His voice a whisper. I need a tempest and a whirlwind. I need a taskmaster: someone who will stand over me and make me work it out until every last correction is made. I need The Body.

Here’s the problem – and perhaps my broader point – I am disconnected from those who could most effectively hold me accountable, and if you are holding yourself in isolation from your local church body, no matter how many problems it has, you have removed all hope for effective editing in your life as well. They need you to edit them. You need them to edit you. Sometimes it will be brutal. Sometimes it will be kind. Sometimes you will insist on creative license and they will see that, in the end, it works. Sometimes it won’t work and you’ll have to admit it and make changes. This is the process of refinement, and The Body is the tool God has provided – the red pen, so to speak – for highlighting the areas needing correction. Fear, intimidation, pride, insecurity, neurosis, none of these is an effective excuse from removing yourself from the process. You are not the best you can be without editing. Some days your baby is ugly, your writing is trash, and you most certainly need to get your mind wired right. Some days you need someone to tell you that, and you need to accept it and make the necessary changes. Sometimes you’re better when you’re not quite so much…you.

Here’s to the editing process. May we all learn to stand in the face of it and not continue to cower under our beds.

For Kathryn. Thanks for making me better simply because you exist!