Distilling the Passion

Taking Your Work
through the Editing Process

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by Fred Longsworth


When we begin thinking of sharing our creative work, learning to edit, rewrite, and polish the piece takes on great importance. If you are a beginning artist of any kind, be very careful whose opinion you solicit. Ultimately, you are responsible for developing your own style and conveying the truth of your vision.


For many of us, the task of editing our creative work poses greater difficulty than the original act of writing.  A poem or story may have come to us following a haunting play, a funeral, a long-awaited trip to Europe, or chance encounter with a lost friend. Strong emotion has impelled us to take pen in hand. However, this animating emotion seldom accompanies the rewriting and polishing process. Thus, editing tends to feel more like work than play or necessity, and we find ourselves procrastinating on our corrections and rewrites.

If I leave you with one good idea from this essay, it is this. The loss of the heat of passion will paradoxically make you a better editor. You can use this "coolness" to the advantage of your poems and stories.


If you are like me, you often put a poem or story aside for a while after writing it. During this "put aside" time, you mellow out about your work. You lose your infatuation. In a sense, you become a stranger to your creation. This allows you to answer a crucial question when you return to the piece to edit it. Is this writing capable of IGNITING interest in the reader? Can it lift the reader out of his or her humdrum world?



If you can answer this question, "Yes," even if it's only a lower-case "yes," then your work has potential, and you should proceed to the more technical aspects of editing.   These nuts and bolts elements also benefit from a cool eye. Here, you are looking for misspellings, syntax errors, weak characterizations, tangles in plot line, telling rather than showing, style that bucks content, metaphors that clash, lack of focus, insufficient conflict or complexity, misuse of words, undesirable repetitions, loose ends, wooden dialog, excessive preachiness, etc . . . (always be careful not to edit out the essential vision or animating passion of the piece).

Once the red pencil is back in the drawer, your poem or story is technically ready to submit for publication. However, many authors combine the above self-to-self process with the parallel act of getting opinions from other writers, either in person-to-person workshops or on-line.

I must tell you that you should choose these other writers with extreme care. Particularly, avoid people who are too much in love with your work to tell you anything useful. Also, stay away from mean-spirited critics, from pedantic types, and from persons who, for whatever reason, simply don't care for your particular style.

Try to find people that are genuinely interested in responding to your work, as opposed to people who really just want you to respond to theirs. Look for people with enough time to give so that they can provide feedback on 5-10 pieces per month. Search out writers whose own work you respect, and who are at your level or a notch or two better. Avoid the trap of surrounding yourself with novices.

Finally, never lose sight of this hard truth. Some of the best writers put their works through twenty or thirty drafts before they're satisfied. So, hang in there!


Fred Longworth  hosts two popular poetry readings at San Diego coffeehouses. His poetry, essays, and stories have been published in numerous literary magazines and e-zines. Mr. Longworth also coordinates an e-mail poetry workshop called The Daily Poem. He can be reached at stereo@electriciti.


Other links for Invoking the Muse:

Invoking the Muse

On Beauty

Fred Longworth's poem,
Workshopped to Death

Read a blessing poem

Learn more about
the Greek muses

Read an article about aesthetics
and cyberart


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