Karen Rivers

editing 101.

Karen Rivers

I am editing.


I say that "I" am editing, but my editor edited.   I am doing something that is neither editing nor writing.  


I am accepting.   It is hard to describe this part, this last big edit, to people who don't write.   It's something other.   It's the part of writing you don't learn in school, that isn't taught.   I would teach it to you, if I could.   In a workshop.


Editing 101, I'd call it, but it wouldn't be quite accurate.   You'd think you were about to learn about editing marks, the secret code of that, or how to manage run-on sentences.


An edit is less an edit and more a letting go, that's what I would say.   Let go.


You would stare at me, not knowing.


Suggest delete, I would write on the blackboard.   Then I would underline that.


Delete can be the hardest thing you ever do, as a writer, I promise you that, I'd say.  


Then I would let the class go for the day.



I started writing this book in between the birth of my son and my daughter.   My son is six now.   My Birdy is four.


I look out the window at the way the late summer sun slants through the tree in the front yard and I realize that I started this book in a different home, with a different view, the same sun slanting through different trees.   

I wrote it during nap time.   I wrote it when first this baby and then that stopped crying for just long enough that I could.   I wrote it in frantic, short bursts.    I wrote it when I was so tired, I couldn't see straight.   I wrote it through the up-all-nights and the shaky, surreal haze of new parenthood.   I wrote it while my daughter's foot made a clear and perfect outdented footprint in the middle of my pregnant belly.   


I played with it.  


It was the tiny path I carved through the blur of baby's needs and demands that whispered, "I am a mother now.  But I am still a writer.   I am still writing.   Yes, I am."  


I escaped into it.


I wrote it while I was breastfeeding, I wrote it while my relationship heaved around me like a squalling sea.  I wrote it at night, late, while the house rose and fell around me in the rhythm of my sleeping, growing family.


When I sent it out the first time, it was greeted with a resounding round of "No", like a reverse applause that felt like a beating.   


I rewrote it once and then again.   


No, no, no, the hands slapped.   I stopped believing.   My daughter learned to walk and talk.   We went for bike rides and hung upside down at the park.   I wrote something else and then another thing, things that sold and became real.    My husband began working a different job.    Once.   Then again.   Our life together got sadder and angrier and more tumultuous and we both stood back and watched it, like stormwatchers on a winter beach, observing but helpless to change its course.


I looked away.   I looked down.   I looked at the screen.   I rewrote the book one more time.   I sent it out one more time to one more person.   


Yes, she said.


My marriage failed.   My kids started school.   The sun kept filtering through the trees outside my window.


And finally, I edited.


The book slowly reshaped.


Everything slowly reshaped.


And some of it was so hard.   You have no idea.   You can't have.


In this way, this book means so much more to me than you'd guess.


And now that book is about to go to print, to really become a tangible, factual item.   Something with weight and substance and validity.    A culmination of oh so much time and so many little spaces between the waves of this and that.   My eyes well up.  


Why?  you ask.   


I can't explain, I answer.   There is too much of a backstory.   It's because of the backstory.



It's 1:30 in the morning and I am editing.


I click keys.   Accept changes.      


I accept changes.   


It gets better.   The book.   Life.    Everything.    You think it won't, you see.   That's the thing.  You think, I can't.  


But you can.   You do.  


And it does.


(For me, anyway, and this quirky little book, locked in our parallel paths.)  


You let yourself let go.


That's what I'd try to teach you, if I was teaching the class.   You'd get your money's worth, I think, even though there's no more advice to give than that.