Even Poets Need Editors

Recently, a new poet was referred to me.  They were informed that I was a reputable editor with a soft spot for emerging poets.  I was informed that this was a newly found poet, with potential, who was a bit rough around the edges, just needed some polishing and he’d be “fine”.  With this pitiful introduction, I agreed to take a look at the work involved.  My first meeting with whom we shall call Bob the poet, was less than inspiring.

We sat across from one another at a small wooden table.  I smiled and introduced myself, understanding that it was likely he had never before worked with an editor, and of the two of us, he might be the more nervous.  I wanted to make sure he felt comfortable and safe.  Writers are a notoriously sensitive bunch when it comes to their work, which is understandable; and poets tend to be more so than other writers.  So there we sat, in a local, bustling, coffee shop, perhaps both wondering how this encounter would go.  Or, so I thought.

“Well, let’s get started, shall we?  Do you mind if I take a glance over a few pieces to get a general idea of what we’re working with?”  I asked.

“I don’t really see why I need an editor; it’s poetry.” Bob the poet replied, shifting the portfolio in his hands.  Almost begrudgingly it seemed, he handed me his work.

This did not bode well.  The meeting went well enough, with effort applied, but it made me think.  It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that argument, and it still bothers me.

Poets have this tendency to believe they are immune to the law of first drafts being complete crap.  Sometimes, yes, this is true,  There are rare occasions when a piece is perfect, flawless on the first incarnation.  This is incredibly rare, EVEN within poetry.

It is possible, depending on the style and form chosen, that there may be little to no editing to do.  Still, editing should be equally, if not more important to the poet.  Within poetry, everything has meaning.  Every character should have relevance.  The word choice, the meter, the punctuation or lack thereof, the enjambments, all are meaningful.  There is so much to consider with writing poetry; having a second pair of eyes is essential.  When you are describing emotion or idea, perhaps things that have no physical form, we have no way of knowing the exact way our words will read to another, or what image we will produce in their mind.  We can imagine, but what if the image generated isn’t what we expected, or hoped?  Then it is time to evaluate how to properly convey what you wish to communicate.  This is what editors do, among other things.  Let us help, it’s what we do best.

Poetry needs editing; one should no sooner submit a chapbook of unedited work than they would an unedited novel.  So, write that piece.  Then, shelve that piece for a month and return to it.  If you still can’t find any edits, before submitting, maybe it’s time to look for an editor.  Word of mouth is a major part of how freelance editors gain clients.  They can often be found on job boards such as Upwork.com or others.  You might also find them lurking in social networking circles.  Check out your local library, often they have bulletin boards up with postings from local freelancers, looking for work.  Ask around, on a per-piece basis, the rates may be as low as $ 0.02/a word, locally or online.  Still, be safe in all encounters with strangers, despite the professional interaction, and feel free to ask for references.  You want a quality editor, not just the cheapest work you can find.  That doesn’t mean the lowest bid on your job will be inferior, in fact often the low bids are young editors trying to get what work they can and develop a reputation.  The advantage here is, they want so badly to become reputable that they will work tirelessly on your piece, and they will perfect it before sending it back to you.  On the other hand, they may have less experience than the more established and more expensive editor.

Consider your options.  Finding an editor that works well with you is essential.  Sometimes personalities clash, and you’re giving a person a thing you’ve slaved over, it’s an important choice.  Most are happy to help, willing to listen, and genuinely want to work with you, just make sure you’re comfortable with your choice.

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3 thoughts on “Even Poets Need Editors

  1. Everything about this is beautiful. I had a man come into the library the other day, asking who the guy was that ran the poetry workshop. I had a bad feeling about this already, but I confessed to being that person. He handed me a notebook full of his poems, and I was glad he at least had the guts to ask if it was any good. Sadly, it really wasn’t, and I turned and turned the pages, in hopes of finding a good line to praise. Instead I found places where he could replace a statement with an image, and he seemed receptive.

    But why, oh why are there poets who are better than he is, who insist on not needing to edit?

    I shall be quoting you and linking back: “Within poetry, everything has meaning. Every character should have relevance. The word choice, the meter, the punctuation or lack thereof, the enjambments, all are meaningful. ”

    And, “shelve that piece for a month and return to it.”

    Thank you. I have just recently stumbled into freelance editing, so for other reasons, even the rest of the article is encouraging.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So, where do you find one of these Editors? I think I really need a lot more opinion before I can even think of upgrading to an editor. I did the napowrimo challenge in April, then in June I revisited everything I wrote for April. Therewereone or maybe two that I didn’t see how to improve. Most were so trite they weren’t worth the effort. In some cases I had skipped the original challenge, which I took on in June, and some days it was just time for something new. Clearly I’m not a good judge of my own work. Invariably my most popular works are a complete surprise to me. You advise would be most welcome.

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    1. If you’d like, feel free to email me a few samples that you would like looked over, and I’ll send my feedback to you. melissabdingee@gmail.com
      Most people at this stage network with other amateurs. It’s easier to get input from others at a similar skill/experience level. Also, every writer I know suffers from not knowing if they’ve written drivel or gold, so you’re not alone. Read everything you can, provide feedback when you can, and people will reciprocate. Now, the quality of feedback provided in this sort of mass communication system can and will vary, but any input should be heard. Personally, I never mind offering suggestions/edits if I’m able, and I would be happy to help. When you’re ready for a paid editor, I suggest Upwork.com for reasonably priced freelancers. (Including myself!) Otherwise, read and pick everything apart for what you did or didn’t appreciate, it helps you learn your own preferences in style.

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