Welcome to Voices - Part 2
Meet Kelly Farley:
At four years old, I loved the color purple—so much so that I skipped down the hall with purple markers in both hands, creating shaky purple swirls. Unsurprisingly, my parents preferred the plain yellow paint and told me I wasn’t allowed to use markers on walls. But never mind this rule. I found a way around it. The next day, my parents found purple lines on our front door; I was never told that I couldn’t color on our doors. What else would you expect of a 4-year-old imitating her two loophole-loving parents?
As daughters of lawyers, my younger sisters and I are law clerks in training, taught to value compromise, logic, and, most of all, knowledge. We grew up discussing legal theories, using red crayon to circle unfamiliar phrases in legal briefs, and creating contracts on post-it notes that detailed transactions like, “You can have the last brownie if you make my bed for the next week.” Even my name has its origins in negotiation. My full name is Kelly Caitlin Farley. My dad wanted my name to be Casey, but, after some negotiation with my mom who preferred the name “Kelly,” settled on having my initials spell K.C. so that he can call me Casey anyways.
My name defines me. But an even bigger aspect of my identity is where I’m from. As anybody who follows me on social media knows, I am from downtown Chicago. This means most of the trees I encounter are locked away behind gates, most of the stars I see are actually airplanes, and most of the photos feature my city’s skyline (as you can see above).
A few months ago, I graduated from the Latin School of Chicago. There, I swam, played softball despite losing a tooth to the sport, tutored in the Writing Center, and attempted not to stumble while walking backwards and giving tours of the school. Emphasis on “attempted.” You could usually find me in the cafeteria mixing hot chocolate with coffee to make my own “mocha,” in the library curled up in a comfy chair and procrastinating my school work in order to edit a piece for Polyphony, or in the locker bay using Expo markers on my locker door as freshmen feared I was committing vandalism with physics equations. Next month, you will find me in New Haven attending Yale University as a freshman, studying everything and anything, trying to meet the school’s mascot puppy Handsome Dan, and probably getting lost.
If you want to win me over, try sending me videos of dogs eating peanut butter (bonus points if it’s Handsome Dan), tagging me in calculus memes, or scoping out new brunch spots with me. In addition to lists and long sentences, I love the upside down smiley face emoji, podcasts, spreadsheets, skiing, and adding to the list of all the books I want to read. As you’d expect from a Polyphony editor, I’ve read and written for as long as I can remember—before I even knew how to spell my dad’s name. My first story in Kindergarten was titled “Brain The Turkey” and was inspired by my dad, whose name is “Brian.” Since then, I’ve gotten better at spelling (thankfully) and also writing.
A large part of the development of my writing as a high school student was Polyphony. I’ve been a member of the “polyfamily” since my freshman year and am currently an Executive Editor. Having to read genres I was uncomfortable with, support my thoughts by pulling out examples, and think critically about how an author communicates their message has helped me in English class more than I can express. Polyphony even seeped into my STEM classes. For my senior project, I coded a Polyphony-inspired website that provides style suggestions to make students more aware of the “rules” of writing so that they can consciously decide whether to abide by them or ignore them.
Through Polyphony, I’ve learned how to use em dashes less frequently (apologies to anybody who had to read my freshman year commentary), to justify and change my gut reactions to a piece, to write punny one-sentence summaries, to help align the author’s intent with my interpretation, and to have my own writing critiqued. Because I’m a pessimistic person picky about favorite books, I was most surprised by how I learned to appreciate every piece of writing, even the ones I don’t immediately like, to find the bit of it that shines, and to make that bit shine a little brighter.
As much as I enjoy polishing a piece until it radiates, the direct interactions with editors and authors are most fulfilling. I’ve encouraged an editor unsure of how to edit poetry that his perspective is just as valuable as that of a veteran poetry editor. I’ve reassured a poet who thanked me “for taking the time to read my ‘poetry’” that she need not refer to her work in quotes; her words, her voice, and her stories have value beyond that of poetic conventions. And, most importantly, I’ve had more experienced editors completely change the way I think about editing.
The first time I received feedback from another editor, I freaked out. Actually, the first few times. All I focused on was all the things I was doing wrong. Hell, I missed that the first poem sent to me was a haiku. I didn’t even recognize all the other poetic styles that the editor said to check for—to this day, I’m still not entirely sure I’d recognize a quatrain. At the time, I thought that editing inherently required a power dynamic, where the editor knows more than the author. I felt like I didn’t know enough now and never would.
As I received more and more feedback, I started a document where I highlighted all the advice I would try to implement the next time I wrote commentary. And, gradually, I got better at editing: addressing things that confused me instead of completely ignoring them, making the general comments less general so that the author can understand what I’m talking about, and suggesting realistic changes that maintain the style of an editor instead advising that the author completely cut the rhyme scheme and start over (yikes, sorry about that one).
I wish I had less hackneyed advice to give, but it’s true: the more you read/edit/write, the better you get at it. It’s hard to stick in there when you feel like the pieces you’re reading are nothing like what you’ve seen in English class. When they’re going straight over your head. When you feel unworthy to be commenting on such pieces. As much as I was intimidated by my fellow writers and editors, I was inspired. The feedback from other editors pointed out things about the process that I had never thought about before. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But I wanted to find out.
I thought I was the only one who felt that way until I was added to an email chain called “To a New Editor.” Billy would pass along questions from new editors for more experienced editors to answer. As I answered the same questions and insecurities I had had a few years ago, I realized that somewhere along the way I had grown and developed strategies. And, as I read through the 20+ replies of other editors, I realized that other editors had different strategies that I wanted to try out myself.
Whether we’re new or experienced editors, we don’t know what we don’t know. Writing makes people feel less alone in the word. Hopefully Voices makes editors feel less alone in the editing process.
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Kelly Farley is the co-founder of Voices and an Executive Editor at Polyphony Lit.