Achieving Intimacy with a Blue Pencil

Editing is an intimate enterprise. Someone hands you what he's written, and you climb inside his thought process, pause where he bids you pause, stop where he bids you stop, and step deeper into his thought process as you begin a new sentence. He chooses his images to create an effect. His syntax reflects his feeling about his topic, his day, his relationship to the world on the other side of his mind.

Everything counts. If she writes on a day when a little too much of her slip is showing, well....Editing is an intimate enterprise. You listen, you watch, and, above all, you respect the wisdom and the intention and the audience of the writer.

I have a friend whose editing I trust. She's one of the few people I know with whom I would trust my life. She knows me; she knows my heart. If I hand something to her and it comes back with arrows and questions and commentary, I know she's given me her heart, too. If it comes back clean, I feel like I have achieved something worthwhile. The fact is, though, that nothing I write is clean until she's had a go at it.

Alice was my first worthwhile editor. Perhaps the only one. She and I established an immediate rapport after she edited my first story for the New Milford Times. She called me the Sunday after it ran, told me it was a great story, and suggested I come by the newsroom to get the draft and my photo. When I got there, she handed me my copy covered with arrows, circles, comments. I took one look and felt warm behind the ears. "I'm glad you liked it," I thought to myself.

Her comments were mathematically clear; the feedback intended to turn my story into a work of good journalism. Alice got me there. Later, when I worked for that paper full-time, I came to enjoy getting my papers back from teacher because she made me work. All my life, I have walked among giants and from time to time stood on their shoulders. My giants carry blue pencils and know the power of the written word.

I began working with a woman last week who is developing her proposal for her doctoral dissertation. The document will become her launching pad for an investigation of her creative vision. She received my name from a colleague whose work I had edited, she emailed me, we spoke, and I began editing a document she emailed me. I thought of Alice as I read through the paper a few times to get a handle on the topic. It's a beautiful, intimate thing to be a part of someone's thoughts, to slide and glide and tumble along with their thoughts and to help make it real and clear for the audience, to bring them in, too.

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