Editing and the total ridiculousness of the academic machine

I confess. My eyes rolled far back into my head when I first read the description of the AWP panel below. I thought about the ADD medication, the swearing, the careful wording of queries when all I wanted to do is shout “WHO THE FUCK TAUGHT YOU TO WRITE??”

R140. The Producers: Performing the Sensual Act of Editing. (Names redacted) Like Kenneth Goldsmith’s writer, production editors spend hours each day shifting content between containers. They retype poems. They adjust HTML. Far from out of touch with markets, these are the editors who do the touching—the dirty, hands-on work of shaping publications. Managers, editors, and scholars on this panel will discuss how direct work with the material publication is sensual, creative, and focusing—actions that shape and expand each publication’s scope via its maker’s patient labor. (Source: AWP schedule)

Then I remembered that in my first copyediting job, I took 25 sheets of typed paper and marked each one with precise, slightly arcane editing marks with my olive green mechanical pencil. I painstakingly rewrote acronyms in all caps and underlined them three times (as per proofreading style) to show that they should be set all caps. I loved the physicality of it.

Editing is its own kind of discipline. It has a bit of creativity, but not much. One of my strengths as a copyeditor is my ability to be flexible. Not all copyeditors can do it. Of course, most other copyeditors can write legibly; everything comes with a cost. It is focused because it has to be. But it was a lot more sensual when I had pages spread across my desk.

I don’t know why editors always feel as if they have to defend themselves against writers. I complain a lot, but I also do not work with people who are primarily writers. (This, Teri, is why you needn’t fear me.) I don’t expect scientists to be able to write stunning sentences. They write a lot better than I can solve equations. I have a lot more patience when I work with creative writers because I know a lot of their choices are deliberate.

Are there a bunch of poets (poets!) who think that editors are out of touch? Are these the same people who go by the idea of “first thought, best thought”? Do they fear to be challenged in their work? Sometimes, as an editor and as a writer, you have to justify your choices. Publishing is a collaborative act between editor/publishing house/magazine and writer. Are there people who make a living editing poetry? Or are they just justifying a free gig as they edit instead of writing? I edit instead of writing all the fucking time.

Are academics still struggling with the idea of “first thought, best thought.” There are people out there who protest AWP as a bourgeoisie shitstorm (not that they’re entirely wrong). If you don’t want to be edited, don’t get caught up in the publication machine. If you want to talk about the beauty and art of the edit, don’t be so fucking apologetic. I once heard (or read?) someone who said that graduate students are conservative because they just want to be loved in workshop.

I can’t even articulate the seven ways to Sunday this panel bothers me. Am I a hypocrite? Why must we justify everything?


4 responses to “Editing and the total ridiculousness of the academic machine

  1. If you don’t want to be edited, don’t get caught up in the publishing machine. True that.

    You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t be) how many people in my MFA program had no desire to learn about publishing. We once had a famous writer open up a discussion with, “I’m going to pass around my favorite rejection letters and you can ask me anything you want about publishing.” The room fell dead around her.

  2. That’s odd—almost every class I’ve taken on writing ends up being hijacked by people who want to know how to get published.

    Only one instructor said, “Edit the hell out of your story.” She was my favorite, though.

  3. I find myself going back to old posts and comments I’ve replied to just to edit myself. I must admit, it’s terribly embarrassing but if I get caught up in what other people think, I’d never get to the truth of what I’m writing about.

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