BY THE TIME YOU SEE a Glimpse Correspondent’s story appear on the site, it has been torn down, rebuilt, peppered with scaffolding, repaired, reinvented, and re-dreamt. For months. It has been sent back and forth criss-crossed with tracked changes and qualified with paragraphs of comments. It’s been nurtured, it’s been scolded, it’s been raised to maturity. Its awkward parts and meandering asides have been snipped, its scenes tightened, its beginnings and endings shifted and sharpened.
If the writer and I do our jobs well, you should not see any of this. You should simply sit down, become absorbed, and read a great story.
What I propose, however, is pulling back the curtain to reveal the editing process. As an editor and an MFA student I have realized how helpful it is to see how a piece is put together, step by step. You may roll your eyes at my naiveté here but I can promise you I’m not faking it: I never really knew before I started the MFA to ask the question, what’s not working here, and why? That’s not to say I thought all my writing was great: rather, if it wasn’t, I’d pummel through draft after draft until it felt alright or hold my breath, grit my teeth, delete it all and start over. This approach is fine: you’ll get there eventually with fine-tuned sensors about when your writing is, as Robert Olen Butler says, thrumming and when it’s twanging. But being able to ask that question – what’s not working here – and identify why a particular section rings false, or feels clumsy, or drags, or fails to have the effect you’d like it to, expands your understanding of the mechanics of writing beyond a yes and a no, a thrum and a twang, to identifiable sets of problems.
Let me rapidly back up here and say that writing is never simply an identifiable set of problems, and that sometimes a major problem for one writer is an asset for another, and that ultimately you will not grow as a writer simply by being able to identify and explain problems in your work. But I do think, for me anyway, being able to say – “yes, this scene is going too fast, and if I slow it down it will carry more weight” or “this language is too abstract and I’m avoiding the real weight of the story” can be enormously helpful in re-imagining my work.
So what I’d like to offer at Glimpse is a sort of x-ray of the editorial process, showing how stories are crafted. When a correspondent’s piece is published at Matador, I’ll put up an accompanying post here at Glimpse with excerpts from different drafts of their work (always, always with their permission – if a writer is uncomfortable with this I don’t do it) and with a discussion about what sorts of hurdles we cleared as we were going through the editorial process.
On a very selfish level, this is tremendously useful for me in understanding my own writing and in being able to reflect on the months the writer and I have spent together on a piece. I’m hoping you also find it useful as you are reading and writing, and it reassures (or humbles!) you to know that nothing comes out fully formed and untouchable, that there are many hours of deliberation and remaking and back-and-forth before the final piece you read comes out all pretty and tidy and polished, betraying nothing of its unglamorous passage to publication.
-New York City, August, 2011