2/7/13

A Post for Writers: Getting Edited to Death

This picture has nothing to do with this text and any editor would advise not putting it with this post. ;)
A few weeks ago, editors started looking over my copy at Elizabeth Street. I was stoked. Until they actually looked over my work. Then I broke down.

A week into it, I sent this text to writer Joanna Goddard: Hey--we just started a new editing system at Elizabeth Street where I submit my posts two days early and two editors fix the hell out of it. It's awesome. I love their edits. I always agree with them, especially when they take out all my exclamation marks!!! But at the same time, I've started to doubt myself as a writer. No sentence goes untouched. Is this a totally normal process?

She responded: Totally normal. When I was an editor years ago, my boss told me, only change things when you're making it *better*, not just making it *different*. Thought it was great advice although most editors don't follow it!

I had to include Joanna's thoughts here so I never forget. Especially after what happened with my Bully Book Round-Up. It's an extreme example, but clearly shows the difference between what I submit and what gets published. Everything from my title to the last word got changed. I think there's good things in both texts, but I like the published/edited version better. It's more streamlined, coherent and professional. Mine version gets clunky at times. Check out the difference below. Do you agree with the edits?

My Version:
HEAD: Bully Book Roundup
DEK: Gaining perspective of bullies, bystanders, and victims through literature.

When I hear the word bully, I usually think of a big kid who punches a little kid for lunch money. However, according to StopBullying.gov, a bully can be so much more. As long as someone has the intention to hurt and they do it repetitively, it’s considered bullying. This includes someone who gossips, ignores, gives dismissive looks, or leaves someone out on purpose. While some adults might brush these interactions as a normal part of childhood, we now know these situations can lead to anxiety, loneliness, and even depression. To help my children (and myself!) have a more rounded view of bullying, I searched for books that didn’t have the typical lunch money stealing character. Hopefully after a trip to the library, my kids will learn all the complicated roles bullying can play in their life and understand what it takes to overcome these challenges. —Sharon Beesley


The published version:
HEAD: The Bullies of Books
DEK: Stories to teach your children about bullying 

Bullies are a bit of a hot topic right now. While adults once brushed off hostile schoolyard interactions as a normal part of childhood, we're now beginning to realize the gravity of these situations. Bullying can lead to serious anxiety and depression, not to mention long-term behavioral problems that last well into adulthood. To educate my children (and myself), I searched for books that examined a range of bullying behavior. Hopefully, after a few trips to the library, my children will have a better understanding of the complicated roles bullies can play and find themselves more prepared to overcome the challenge should they find themselves in a situation. —Sharon Beesley



So what did I do when I saw the published version? I let it go. Once I summit my posts, I feel like they are out of my hands. I'm sure I could request certain things be put back in, but haven't had to ask yet. I'm loving the opportunity to look like a stronger writer as the editors do their thang. I'm sure there's a slight power trip (and snickering?! ;) involved when they rewrite my sentences for clarity or find grammatical errors. Being an editor must feel so satisfying at times, like finishing a puzzle. I'm so grateful for them. I'm getting used to their edits and style.  

PS: Speaking of bullies--I bought the book Stand Up for Yourself and Your Friends: Dealing with Bullies and Bossiness for Ella but forgot to put it on the list. WE LOVE IT!!


33 comments:

  1. I often edit my brother's university coursework for him- and I stick totally to the "making it better not different" school of thought. After all, it's his work- and it could be argued that what they published wasn't your work! At the same time, it is definitely a way of becoming a stronger writer, and it is clear that he has learnt a lot from the edits I help him make. I think the important thing is that there is some sort of explanation as to why they've changed your work- else I think it can be a bit disheartening.

    And I loved your original version, by the way! x

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  2. I TOTALLY get this ! I'm a development (fundraising) writer at a nonprofit, and take creative writing classes on the side. I've been in this job for two years and still doubt myself after seeing all that blue ink all over my words that I had come to like so much...

    One thing I wanted to say about what you posted is that it seems like they edited your piece to reflect the Elizabeth Street voice... or, I hope that was their intention, because they really took out your personality. I like your writing and exclamation points because you come through. :)

    Happy writing!

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  3. I totally understand the feeling, and my experience is in school. I'm a recent college grad but in high school I was constantly getting my work edited and changed by my teachers, sometimes it felt like they didn't like my stance so they were just making it what they wanted it to be.

    However, and I'm not trying to be rude but you might want to go through this post, you do have a few spelling mistakes and wrong words being used....

    for example it isn't "summit my work" but submit.

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  4. Hi Sharon,
    I really like your style of writing, I feel like I can hear you say it. Very personal and very funny. That's why I like your version much better, the Elizabeth Street one sounds too "dry" and matter-of-fact to me. I can see why they would correct spelling and grammatical errors and such things (even though I wouldn't have noticed as I'm a German native :)). Will keep reading your blog! :)
    Eva

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  5. Hence the saying "there is special circle in hell reserved for editors." haha. Seriously, it's always easier to edit than to write. if you just edited you would start doing that to. i liked both versions.

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  6. I like both versions as well. The first is obviously more "you", but the second sounds more correct. I'm not a fan of heavy editing; at some point, I feel that after a piece goes through that treatment, its no longer the original author's work although it may still be their topic of choice. Its too bad so much of your voice was edited out of the final piece. Perhaps the editors could work on staying their heavy hand.

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  7. I used to write a monthly newsletter but my manager had a technical background and would review it before I sent it off. His edits would make me cringe! Finally, after a lot of back and forth, we found someone else to edit my writing and working with her really helped me. Sometimes it's nice to have another set of eyes. I would write the thing and be so invested in every word of it, it was hard to be impartial.
    It sounds like you are learning a lot from this new role. Just remind yourself that all of the best writers have editors too!

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  8. Hi Sharon,

    I really like your personal voice too, and I think the editors weren't trying to edit it out but make the angle of the copy clearer, so that there was only one ' most important thing' that it was trying to say. Unfortunately, sometimes the voice inevitably gets cut out in the process too.

    When I was interning at a magazine company, my first few articles got edited to death too, but as I tried to analyse why the articles were being edited that way and improve my writing accordingly, the edits gradually got fewer and fewer! Soon, you'll be able to write articles with both personal voice and a crystal-clear angle. Don't be discouraged! :)

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    1. And forgot to add that sometimes, unfortunately, this 'most important thing' they would like to lead with is not something that matches yours! Oh well. :p

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  9. The edited version like you said does sound smoother but I totally get where you're coming from - it's hard not to take it personally sometimes. I used to work for a government organisation where letters that I drafted would come back to me with tiny amendments that like you said were just different rather than better. The key is knowing when it's being changed to improve it but if it's just a different writing style or another way of writing the same thing then that's just a waste of everyone's time.

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  10. I am a writer and once, the sub-editor invented a quote and added it into my story. Imagine my horror when I see the published story! Comparing the two versions, I'd expect to read the first in a personal and passionate blog (like yours, which I really love) and the second in a serious publication. But I do think they might have edited it too much and eliminate you out of it. Is there really a need to change "after a trip to the library" to "after a few trips to the library"? Maybe you can gently bring up your point to the editors; let them know you appreciate their edits and have learned a great deal from them, but you feel some parts have been changed unnecessarily. I always do that to defend my work, preferably before the story gets printed. And although I sound like a writer who guards her work jealously, I do listen to their explanation and accept the changes sometimes when I am convinced that their edits are better. I don't think the editors enjoy it, but it is a way of telling them you take your work seriously. :)

    - Xin

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  11. Thanks so much for everyone giving me such good feedback!! You all made so many good points. What I've learned from your comments is that I do have a say in my work. This is my first job as a writer--sometimes I don't have the confidence to discuss the changes with my editors. Moving forward, I'll speak up (nicely!) if something doesn't make sense. I'll keep you posted!

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  12. I actually prefer your writing to the edited version. For one, it feels like an actual Mom is writing. And more importantly, I learned more from your version. I am not a writer or an editor, just a reader.....who really enjoys your style of writing over the super polished (and bland) style of Elizabeth Street (no offense).

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  13. Does your employer know about this post? Be careful about sharing too much internal information from your work, especially when commenters are calling your employer's site "bland".

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    1. Yep! They know :) Thanks for checking though :)

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    2. Ha! My thoughts exactly - makes me not interested in reading Elizabeth Street. Turns out there is such a thing as bad publicity :)

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    3. I didn't mean to disuade readers from looking at Elizabeth Street. Perhaps I should have said that NYC taught me is more "colorful" to me than Elizabeth Street. I will still read everything Sharon posts on Elizabeth St. because I really value her point of view. yay!

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    4. for what it's worth, I always appreciate Sharon's honesty and forthrightness - which always seems to trump (graciously) the caution that Anon @ 7:37 mentions. Not a bad thing, on either sides....I am just always refreshed visiting this blog, as there are so many bloggers out there that seem to become more cautious/bland/anonymous as their audience grows in size. So, "good on ya" Sharon, for sharing your 'first timer's' experience @ Elizabeth Street with honesty and aplomb. Brave and good stuff.

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  14. With so much information out there, everyone has a billion of choices on what you read and which source to use. Thus editors should turn their page and let go of technical style and stuff. We have entered into an area where it is so hard to get noticed in the big hole named internet and what should be top of the top is personality and the ability to engage readers with your style and your stories. While I don't like to edit what I write, because I feel the first round is the real one, I for sure appreciate editors and their work because it is not that easy to get into someone's else shoes, imagine their perspective and try to say what they meant in a different way. But in certain cases, where a company or site has a specific niche, they should do their best to put personalities and intimate stories first. For example, Im 24 and I don't have any children yet, but I'd spend 2 hours reading articles at Babble because of the great stories they share and the hilarious tone parents use to accompany their pictures. I don't work for them Sharon (:P), but I mentioned it just to let you know why editing is good but the new generation kind of editing should take a different angle.
    It's hard not to feel down and take it personally, but I know you are going to rock :)

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  15. I prefer your style better but I know that the editors are just doing their job. To me, yours feels more personal which I appreciate in a writer. I think you need to decide for yourself which of their edits make your work better, and which edits are just personal preferences. Ironic that it's an article about bullies and it seems that the editors have bullied you into accepting their changes to your work. Keep trying to improve your writing but please don't take the "Sharon" out of it - yours is the first blog I read every day!

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    1. Thanks all the kind words. And brilliant observation!! haha I didn't even think of that!!

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  16. I was just talking about this with my husband last night! My good friend is helping me edit some professional emails and she keeps changing things to make it sound the way she would say it. I finally had to explain to her, and my husband who was felt like I was taking her advice for granted, that their is a difference between making my point clearer and just changing things because she likes her way better. You still have to maintain your own voice. Good luck with your writing!

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  17. Huh. In one of my favorite blogs, the author posts pictures that have nothing to do with what she's writing, for the most part. She then does a quick mention at the end of why the pictures. It's one of the reasons I like her blog--it makes me continue reading.

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    1. that blog sounds awesome! what's the link?

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  18. For the most part, I do like the edits for that piece, but I also feel like some of that streamlining ended up creating a post that is written at a lower reading level. Have you ever read research on what level most things are written to, (3rd-7th grade!) Wild to me!

    In grad school, we write obscene amounts that always has different writing style, (reports on kids are different from IEPs which are different from Lit. Reviews, etc.) I love and adore editing for others. LOVE. IT. When it comes to my own writing, blogs or educational writing, I hit a brick wall. I can no longer see the function of the words. Alas!

    I really prefer your own writing style, but I appreciate Elizabeth Street wanting to get the most out of you, too.

    P.S. I especially refer Your last sentence.


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  19. Hi Sharon
    I love your style of writing and your version was much more personal. I felt like you were talking to me as a mother. I must admit the second version I switched of after the first line, too smooth and no feeling attached to it. I love your blog.
    Lors

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  20. I thought editing was to check spelling and grammer, it looks like they totally rewrote it. (I like yours much better!)

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  21. The edited version sounds like a sterile paragraph you'd find on an LSATs or a similar test. It is clear writing but...they totally stole away your voice/obvious interest in the topic and put out a robotic version. Moreover, it does not explain anything about other types of bullying like your text does, which I found interesting as I did not know about it. I would have never learned from their text about emotional bullying. It takes away important information and only puts forth that bullying covers "a range" of behaviors. Essentially, the editors stripped essential info here. :) You should have at least fought for that info if not for your voice (which I would have rather read 10x over theirs btw).

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  22. :) I too like your version better. I can see them editing it down a little, but I agree they totally rewrote which, to me, made it sound boring. But that's just my style! Clearly, we're your blog readers, so we like the way *you* write.

    I'm super-impressed you told them about your blog post too. I'd be too shy for that, so good for you being honest and sure of yourself.

    Also, I luuuurve exclamation points!!!

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  23. I like them both. One is perfect for NYC Taught Me and the other is perfect for Elizabeth Street. Looks like a win-win for you Sharon!
    As someone that has always been self conscious about my writing, I took edits as them just tailoring your work to appeal to their readers. I think this experience will teach you how to write more of that style (if you want!). I think not reading into it is the way to go. They obviously like your work or they wouldn't bother to spend time editing it!
    Good thing you have your blog where you can do whatever you want (and I think it's great that let you post this!), and keep up the good work on both blogs!

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  24. Hi Sharon,thought i'd put my two cents worth. I've worked as a sub editor for a magazine, and I can definitely say that editing an article is something that kicks your ego up a notch ;). I personally think that a good editor should never change the voice of the writer. It is very easy to rewrite an article, but to modify it (rearrange, eliminate cliches, exclamations etc)so that the article abides by the style sheet issued by the organization without changing the entire article- that takes an experienced eye. This is not to say that Elizabeth Street took the easy way out or anything, they did capture the essence of your text more or less before rewriting it. I don't understand why that was necessary though, perhaps you could ask them for a style guide you could adhere to while writing for them? Good luck! Love your blog btw :)- Miriam

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  25. I can relate to your experience. But I think every writer will experience this and you have to endure it. Maude, royal-essay.com

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