Q&A - What has your greatest struggle with editing been?
By Brooke Nind, Anika Mukker, Eva Zheng and Daniel Boyko
My greatest struggle with editing has been crafting general commentary without repeating the same ideas from my specific commentary. Although it can be helpful to make references to my specific commentary so I could further elaborate on those ideas, sometimes I find myself simply rehashing it and providing little unique insight in the general commentary. It can be difficult to discuss the piece as a whole if I’m not completely sure if I interpreted the piece correctly, or if I’m still developing my opinion on it.
In these cases, it helps to distance myself from the piece for a couple of hours, or even a day if the deadline allows. Coming back to read the piece again with a clear head can draw your attention to aspects of the work you didn’t notice before, as it often does for me. I often include comments on the specific emotions I felt when reading a piece––this can be a good starting point if you’re not sure what else to talk about.
I also like to separate my general commentary into multiple paragraphs now. This may not be everyone’s style, but it helps me transition from one idea to another. Moreover, it’s nice to have a rough outline or structure in place even for the more freely formed section of commentary.
Throughout my time with Polyphony Lit, I have grown to love editing. Not only do I look forward to commenting on submissions, but I have also started to implement the editorial process into other aspects of my life, much to the annoyance of my friends. That said, there have been parts of the process that I have struggled with. One of my biggest struggles has been with concision. As a person whose mind is constantly running with ideas, I often have a lot to say about everything. Once an idea or comment gets going, I usually go on tangents until I completely exhaust my train of thought; honestly, sometimes even I get intimidated looking at the length of my commentary.
Trying to strike a balance between providing well thought out commentary without making it too arduous to read and understand is something I am still trying to improve upon. However, there have been some things that have been helpful––namely, reading my commentary out loud and making sure not to push off the editing process until the very last minute. Both help me look at my edits with a fresh state of mind: gauging what parts are unnecessary long, deciding what words and phrases can be omitted, and seeing where punctuation can help increase clarity.
Nonetheless, I like to simply think of these struggles as a result of my excitement about editing prose and poetry!
My greatest struggle with editing would be finding a balance between criticism and praise. When I write my commentary, I sometimes find myself leaning too heavily on praise. Now, I try to make my comments at most, half positive / half constructive—and only if the piece is nearly publishable as-is. After seeking help from higher-level editors, I find the best editorial comments to include one purely positive note for every 2-4 critiques while dispersing other positive thoughts throughout.
Criticism is important because it helps give the writer a new perspective on their piece and opens their eyes to features that they have never realized/overlooked. They are written to help the writer excel at his/her craft and make their piece stronger, not to offend them.
Reading for pleasure versus reading to edit is completely different. A tendency I have as a casual reader is to overlook some parts of a piece if it isn’t working for me. However, when I give criticism, I have to analyze and pinpoint exactly what I feel is off. I keep this in mind as I read over and annotate a piece. Sometimes, I wait a few days to let my mind soak up the piece.
When I first became an editor for Polyphony Lit, my greatest struggle was easily focusing too much on the grammar of a piece. At the time, I had not yet fully embraced that there are elements other than pronoun-antecedent agreement, sentence or line flow, or even punctuation that impact and hold influence over a piece: to name a few, voice, style, literary devices, content, and tone. While editing, my primary concern initially was to confirm that the grammar of a piece was spotless, to ensure that if an English teacher scanned the piece up and down, then they would be pleased to find there would be no need for red pens. That was my goal.
As you might imagine, that was a horribly limiting goal to have. My Specific Commentary, especially for the first few submissions I worked on, was overflowing with comments on grammar. Looking back on it, I expect the majority of those comments probably were only helpful to a limited degree (if the writer chose to deliberately submit a piece without proofreading it, then there’s a very good chance that same writer won’t listen to my advice on grammar; if the writer was unaware of many grammar rules, then chances are my comments probably wouldn’t have been elaborate enough to fully educate the writer).
I’m not sure when my commentary started to shift towards embracing elements other than grammar (such as voice, content, and tone), but I think a part of it had to do with a) familiarizing myself with the commentary other editors were composing (most of which didn’t have any grammar comments at all) and b) thinking about writing the commentary that I would want to receive. It no longer became about proofreading submissions, but rather providing feedback to a high school writer much like myself and trying to depict to this writer how to improve. That change in mindset completely altered my approach to reading, to writing, to editing, to being a part of Polyphony Lit. I would like to think that change was responsible for helping me overcome my editorial grammar struggle.
Brooke Nind is a Second Reader at Polyphony Lit and and a blogger at Voices.
Anika Mukker is a Second Reader at Polyphony Lit and and a blogger at Voices.
Eva Zheng is a First Reader at Polyphony Lit and and a blogger at Voices.
Daniel Boyko is an Executive Managing Editor at Polyphony Lit and a blogger at Voices.