Q&A: How have you changed as an editor since joining Polyphony?
By Brooke Nind and Sanya Tinaikar
Since joining Polyphony, I’ve grown as both a writer and an editor. When I joined staff as a First Reader, the equivalent of a Junior Editor in the editing hierarchy, it could take me upwards of four hours to craft my commentary. Often, I still wasn’t happy with it, as it would be too vague, too repetitive, or wouldn’t dig deep enough. I’d scan the piece over and over, often focusing on minute details like grammar, punctuation, or inconsistencies in the plot. I struggled to pick up on thematic ideas and didn’t always fully explain my comments. I’d say something like “I love this image—it’s so vivid” or “this could use some elaboration” without continuing to explain what made the image vivid, or what exact information was missing from the piece.
Three years later, I have a much better understanding of what works for me. I tend to edit most efficiently in the early evening, so I aim to get my Polyphony work done then. I read the piece once to get a general impression of the subject matter and message, jot down some notes, and then read it again with a much more careful and critical eye. This routine makes it easier for me to organize my thoughts and write insightful commentary in a reasonable amount of time. I make sure to address tone, the flow of ideas, any plot confusions, characters, figurative language (especially imagery), and emotion/what feelings the piece evoked while reading. There are obviously many other aspects of writing you can talk about and subtopics within these areas, but these are the big ones I usually make sure to hit somewhere in my comments.
I’ve also gotten better at providing feedback to other editors. With a lot more experience and a more in-depth understanding of my past editing mistakes (some highlights: confusing speaker and narrator and repeating points verbatim from my specific commentary in my general commentary), it’s much easier to identify the struggles many new editors have and pass on the advice that previously helped me. I also recognize that each editor has their own preferences and commentary writing style, so I’ve learned to keep my feedback as subjective as the commentary we provide to writers.
In general, I’ve gotten more skilled and efficient at reading and analyzing the diverse array of pieces people submit to Polyphony. I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned through reading other people’s work, and even more grateful for the helpful feedback I’ve gotten from higher-level editors over the past few years.
Joining Polyphony Lit has been one of the most rewarding and informative experiences in my writing career. I’ve learned to collaborate with other fellow writers and gained an insight into so many facets of craft and technique. At the same time, my own editing has cultivated and covered a wider range of topics, providing more in-depth commentary.
When I began as a First Reader, my commentary mainly covered one aspect: mechanics. I would focus on punctuation, tense, clarity—and while those are all extremely important points to focus on in writing, I failed to look at the overall picture. Instead of looking at thematic concepts, like theme, symbolism, and motifs, my specific commentary was laden with punctuation critiques or praises. As I spent more time editing submissions, I realized that it was important to maintain a balance between thematic concepts and mechanics. If you address more of either one, you’re not providing the author with the best commentary.
Prose and poetry commentary tackle different techniques—something that I’ve learned throughout my time at Polyphony as well. Especially with poetry, it’s important to provide comments about poetic devices, such as consonance and elisions. I hadn’t always looked at this part of craft before; addressing these factors has not only made my commentary more thought-provoking, but I also include these very techniques in my own writing. Not only are poetic devices a crucial aspect that I’ve begun to address, but structure has been a point that I make sure to emphasize as well. Perhaps the poem fits better as an entire stanza rather than split up into multiple couplets. As an editor, I try to provide commentary on all points ranging from content to format.
Through some exceptional feedback I’ve received from higher-level editors, I’ve expanded more on my critiques and praises. Instead of merely writing that a word doesn’t work in a particular context, I now provide other examples of words that could be used. Giving this background and this nudge in the right direction can be extremely beneficial to writers, which is something I hadn’t thought about before. Providing as much depth and detail as possible in one’s commentary is hugely advantageous to emerging writers.
While my commentary has definitely changed since becoming an editor for Polyphony Lit, my own writing has also improved; I’ve taken some great points from submissions received and read so many various types of genres incorporating such skill. I’m fortunate enough to have gained some remarkable feedback from my senior editors as well, and I look forward to growing even more as both a writer and editor.
Brooke Nind is a Senior Editor at Polyphony Lit and a Content Editor at Voices.
Sanya Tinaikar is a Senior Editor at Polyphony Lit and a blogger at Voices.