Thursday, September 09, 2004

On being and editedness

I'm not as upset as I used to be about being less than well edited. I'm still annoyed when bad editing or mistakes make a piece harder to read, but I don't obsess about it. People do get over the rough spots.

But it's not just the years and the mellowing of age, though they do play a part. And it's not because I no longer care as much about writing as well as I can, and seeing my work presented as well as I wrote it. If not better (which is what good editing can do.)

The other important factor is digital. Thanks to blogs and web pages, I can publish my own work in a way that is a bit more permanent than in newspapers or magazines, with a greater availability---literally a global availability. And what I write, for better or worse, is what you get.

And if I feel strongly enough that I want to fix forever in print some longer work, I can always spring for the relatively modest cost of a print-on-demand book.

Just knowing this is liberating. No editor or publisher has the absolute say, the complete power over what I write.

So when I write for a newspaper or magazine or, maybe someday again, under contract to a book publisher, I now concentrate on two other elements rather than just the finished product: 1. the process. 2. the money.

The process is the research, interviewing, travel, gathering and organizing information. The process is the writing itself, the effort, against whatever deadline pertains, to make it as good as I can.

The process can also include working on the editing: conferring with editors, reading changes, re-working them when that seems right. Sometimes an editor will reorganize a piece but it doesn't quite work. I add, subtract, multiply and divide, shift around and so on, to make it work within the new structure.

But there isn't always time or opportunity for all that, and sometimes I just have to let it ride. It can still be disappointing when something I really liked---large or small---is unnecessarily lost, but then it can also be disappointing when that something is preserved, and nobody really notices.

I've always been especially sensitive to losing the sense of my voice, of a piece no longer "sounding like me." It's part of my larger obsession with sound and voice, hearing through the eyes, etc. which I've come to realize is pretty integral to who I am, one-eared and all. But sometimes I even have to let that go, at least if it's not complete ventriloquism.

So it's best to stay invested in the process, make that as much fun and as rewarding in itself as possible, and make sure in the end you get paid.

For the truth is that seeing it in print (either in some publication or as I want it on the Internet or in a print-on-demand book), seeing that you still think it is as good as when you wrote it, and even seeing others appreciate it, is not a thing in itself but a continuation of the process. At best it's closure but also generative, for you and for others.

Some of the mellowing is probably also the result of just getting worn out, or benumbed. Some of it is just perspective. The echo of time passing, of time running out. Once you're done with the writing, it's really over. It's time for the next task, the next curiosity, the next attempt, the next stretch, the next discovery, the next performance, the next making and re-making, the next surprise.