Q&A - How has your editorial process evolved?
By Daniel Boyko and Lara Katz
Before I started editing for Polyphony, I didn't have an editorial process. When I completed first drafts, I would re-read them, making whatever changes occurred to me, until I couldn’t think of anything else to change. There wasn’t much direction or purpose—in fact, sometimes I wouldn’t edit my writing at all.
After I started editing for Polyphony, however, I found myself picking up on different "tangible" aspects of writing. How does sentence variation matter to prose? Why are dialogue tags important? Attempting to answer these questions—something I was forced to do in order to justify suggestions in my Polyphony commentaries—allowed me to dig deeper into my own writing.
Polyphony has also exposed me to previously unfamiliar styles and even experimental choices, such as playfulness with enjambment, em dashes, and capitalization or lack thereof (thanks, billy!). My attempts to understand stylistic choices like these had in the past never met with much success. But soon I was engaging with and responding to a multitude of different writing styles every week. Doing so gave me the confidence to edit more rigorously for originality and style, something I hadn’t thought to do before.
Furthermore, I recently joined Polyphony Lit's Writers’ Match for editors who want writing buddies, and my discussions about writing with my multiple buddies, as well as their invaluable editorial feedback on my writing, have helped me broaden my perspective as to what is possible in an edit or even in a first draft.
And, probably most significantly, I’ve gotten much better at gauging the relative quality of my writing. Having judged the publication-readiness of hundreds of Polyphony submissions, I now feel more comfortable judging my own writing. Sometimes, half the battle with an edit is deciding what’s worth the edit!
I didn’t even realize how little I knew about editing until Polyphony Lit. I had just assumed that editing was nothing more than reviewing your work one more time and seeing if you forgot a period or a comma somewhere. That was really my only approach: checking, reviewing, and revising grammar. I would read a piece over and over again to make sure that there were no parts that would receive the dreaded red pen.
Of course, through Polyphony Lit, I learned how grammar is only the surface of editing. When I first started out as a First Reader, I easily spent about 90% of the Specific Commentary on grammar, and this didn’t change until I got honest feedback from a higher-up editor: there was more to editing than checking the commas, clauses, and pronoun-antecedent agreement of a sentence. Cohesion, language, imagery, syntax, and diction all matter and, to some extent, even matter more than grammar. That’s right. I had to go from considering grammar as the end-all-be-all to something that took a back seat to developing a voice and style.
While the adjustment itself came as a shock (to say the least), I’m happy to say that I finally learned how to apply that editing style to my own personal writing; not just looking how to make a sentence “correct,” but how to make it memorable and significant. Especially with poetry, I have learned techniques that I had never heard of before, including enjambment, and much like Lara, I’m now an unapologetic supporter of the em dash—it’s my go-to. I value a piece’s meaning, how it’s conveyed, and both what was effective and what wasn’t. Additionally, through rigorous practice and continually working on commentary for Polyphony Lit, I now understand the value of posing questions directly to the writer as if I were having a conversation with them, and I regularly use them in both my commentary to the writer and in my feedback to other editors.
Now, when I apply the editorial process to my own writing, I’m much more lenient towards getting creative. Without Polyphony Lit, I don’t think I would have ever gotten the courage to write an entire poem without capital letters and be completely abstract. Through editing other writers’ pieces, I more easily spot issues in my own work, including excessive adjectives, poor dialogue, and replacing clichés with creative, vibrant imagery. I am taking the Polyphony Lit mindset with me wherever I go…
Like Lara, I also just joined Polyphony Lit’s Writers’ Match and am also amazed by the instrumentally impressive and beneficial feedback. I am receiving advice from people that genuinely care about writing and improving their craft. Their feedback is the type of thorough editing and raw, honest advice that isn’t available in an English classroom or even an after-school club. While it’s not as formal as Polyphony Lit’s typical syntax for commentary, the informality just works. I feel as if I have created relationships with fellow-minded writers and found an outlet to seek out when I need brutally earnest advice about how to conclude a piece. My approach to writing has already changed, and I have even started to search for ways to be more concise.
My editorial process went from a nonexistent review of grammar to an investigation of how consistency, flow, and voice intertwine. I feel as if my editorial process has improved immensely as a result, and I will continue to develop my skills in the future.
Daniel Boyko is an Executive Managing Editor at Polyphony Lit and the Blog Contributor Liaison of Voices.
Lara Katz is the Editor-in-Chief of Polyphony Lit and a blogger at Voices.