I have an old friend who doesn’t understand why ham-fisted or dick-fingered editing is so maddening to a writer. We who choose our words with care always chafe when someone swaps out our precise formulations and inserts cliches. My friend doesn’t understand this, because, if they are paying you, don’t they have a right to decide what they like about your writing or not? I wrote this for her.
I want to show my friend something about writing, and a little bit about my notion of honor and trust.
“Would you have any objection to me recording this conversation?”
“Yes, I would. Why would you want to record me?” she will ask.
“I want a personal record of this conversation we’re about to have,” I’ll say.
“You want to wear a fucking wire on me, you fucking fuck?”
“Not a wire,” I’ll say, “ a personal record of our talk, for only our use, yours and mine. I’ll make you a copy and you can listen to it if you like. I’m planning to listen to it, if this talk turns out to be at all interesting, which I’m pretty sure it will. I won’t play it for anyone else.”
“Call it what you want, making a ‘personal record’ is wearing a fucking wire, you fucking fuck,” she’ll say.
“I promise that only you and I will ever hear it,” I’ll say.
“You’ll write about it,” she’ll say.
“If I do, I’ll give you whatever I write, for your approval, before anybody else sees it,” I’ll say.
“I preemptively revoke my approval,” she’ll say “what is the use of this recording? It could only come back to haunt me, in some hideously distorted form. Or am I supposed to learn something from hearing my own words, is that your idiot plan, teacher man?”
“Not directly, but maybe so. If our words find their way onto a printed page you will find out a lot about the process of writing and editing. A simple transcript of the talk may not be satisfying to either of us. That’s where some tightening up, some editing comes in, and you will have final editorial say.
“Anything you object to, we will simply edit out of the conversation. Anything that would make anybody feel bad, anything that doesn’t feel 100% kosher, anything that would embarrass anyone. We simply edit it out. We may have to change a few words at the end of what the person before said, for the natural flow of the conversation to make sense, but we will only change words we both agree on and only add things that make what we’re saying more clear than when we originally said it, with the facial expressions, body language and so on that won’t be conveyed in the mere words.”
“I’m not going to sit at a computer and rewrite anything,” she’ll say.
“I’ll do all that. I’ll give you a printed copy, cross out whatever you want and I’ll read you all the changes and edits for your final approval. Plus, I won’t try to sell or post it unless I have your permission. I’m not in any way doing this to make you look bad. I think we’re going to have an interesting conversation and I’d like to have an accurate personal record of it, as a keepsake and a tool.
“Those kind of verbatim notes are invaluable if you are writing, the actual words the people spoke, not a recreation or imagining of what they said, how they spoke. Plus, like I said, you will understand the difference between good editing and shit editing by the time we are done making our talk read as smoothly as possible.”
“What topic do you have in mind?” she’ll say.
“I have in mind only where our conversation takes us,” I’ll say.
“Bullshit,” she’ll say “how many hidden agendas did you sneak in here today?”
“Only one or two, I promise you,” I’ll say.
“I don’t want you to record me,” she’ll say.
“I’ll only record myself, then, if that’s okay,” I’ll say.
“That’s even worse,” she’ll say, “you performing for the open mic.”
“At least if it’s both of us, you will get to understand, without a doubt, how good editing is a very wonderful thing and how bad editing bites and sucks with many rows of razor sharp teeth, like a shark.” I’ll say.