The Red Pen Diaries

As you can see, finally started AUT edits in earnest last night. The comments in pen are D’s, the printed comments (of which there are none on this page, sorry) are J’s, and the red pen marks are mine. Last night I watched the last half of the last episode of FNL that I had, then switched over to Music and Lyrics, which was sort of cute and pretty funny despite my rather low expectations (or maybe because of them!). I had originally planned on editing all night (all aboard the Whoops! Express), so I had my MS and the email from J I’d printed out with D’s big picture comments, The Artful Edit by Susan Bell, and my favorite red felt pen arranged neatly on the kitchen table. My roommate E came home and eyed the pile warily. “Is that a red pen I see?” she asked. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

I understand immediately what she meant, but honestly I’m not afraid of the red pen. Just like E, I had teachers in high school and even in college that attempted to spare sensitive students from seeing their essays and short stories in bloody tatters by using green or purple ink, but I like how official the red looks. If I didn’t hate non-mechanical pencils so much, I’d mark up my manuscripts with red pencil, because it’s traditional, old-fashioned copy editor-looking. But I do hate non-mechanical pencils, so I prefer to use the fine red felt pen. And, to be truthful, I don’t spare anybody else the ignominy of the red pen, either. I think it’s good for a person–it startles you into recognizing that you are now in a different mode. When I was a TA in college and I marked up student essays, I used red pen. When I was an editor at my undergraduate literary magazine, I used red pen. When I read the work of friends now, I use red pen. I like the red pen; the red pen is my friend.

Here’s another thing I realized last night–like most things, editing is so much scarier before you start. The possibilities of how much someone could hate your work are much more terrifying than the actually problems they have with it. When I first took a look at the marked up MS J sent me last week, I started flipping through looking expressly for J and D’s comments, not actually reading. With each page I turned, it was like, “Oh, God, what are they going to hate now?” This is very stupid. That is really not the point of revision. So last night (and I know I crapped out pretty quickly, but that was more the result of extreme fatigue in general than a desire to stop editing) I started back at the beginning, with my red pen in hand, and read through AUT line by line. Which is why I only got to page 30 before abandoning the effort and going to bed. But whatever, the point is that because I was looking for flaws outside of J and D’s comments, and finding them in abundance, it was much less scarier to come across one of their issues.

Also, funny story. The last page I worked on last night had a comment from J about a line describing a character, something to the tune of “this is clunky, we need to find a way to say this exact same thing but in a totally different way”. At first I misunderstood and thought it was a comment about the line before, but when I realized what line it was I didn’t even recognize it. The longer you work on an MS, the more you memorize and I was like, “This looks unfamiliar to me–I think it used to say the same thing in a different way.” I guess I must’ve changed it in the last revision, although I can’t remember if it was because J didn’t like the way it was phrased back then, or because I didn’t think it was right. And she’s right, it is clunky–I don’t know why I ever thought that it sounded better than what I remember the line being in the first place. Maybe I’ll just go back to the original. I bring this up because I think it’s highly likely that I read that line and went, “Somebody’s going to take issue with how this is phrased, I think people might say it’s too lofty, I’d better change it.”

Which sort of brings up the question: How often you should anticipate other people’s criticism when you’re editing something? I don’t know the answer, by the way. I feel like it was probably a bad call on my part to change this particular line, mostly because I liked it the way it was, AND I was reading a marked-up copy of the MS in which my agent didn’t even mention that the line needed changing (unless I’m remembering wrong and she did say that, in which case ignore this entire paragraph). So now I have to go spelunking through one of the myriad versions of AUT (thankfully I save every revision in a different document with the dates in the name, which I WOULD TOTALLY RECOMMEND, by the way) to find the line. Le sigh. Whatever! This post was really just to put up that picture and to direct your attention to the left sidebar, which tells you that I have actually started AUT revisions. Apparently it took me five paragraphs to say that.

(Oh, yeah, and also even though I actually edited 30 pages last night, I’m only marking it as 15 because I feel like half of the work is in the red pen stage and half of the work is in making the changes in Word. Just FYI–actually, F my I, because I might forget later and confuse myself. I’m really good at that!)

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