Bruiser or Bleeder?

Early in our relationship, my husband and I had a big fight.

During the resolution period he told me, “Don’t worry too much. I bleed a lot at first, but I heal quick.”

That got me thinking about the metaphor of emotional conflict as receiving physical wounds. I realized that I am not a bleeder, I’m a bruiser.

I can take a lot, but you might not see the swelling purple and yellowish green under the skin that takes a very, very long time to go away. Add this to a conversation I had with my cousin last night where we were joking about middle age and he said very matter of factly, “I notice I just don’t heal anymore.” He meant his twisted ankle, but it pinged in me a deeper concern.

Physically of course the young heal quickly and well because of their biology. But they also often heal quickly and well because they haven’t learned the hard way that some things never change and may not be worth healing for. As cynical as this sounds, I simply am considering this as an unfortunate but apparently very real course of events across the lifespan. At some point, we look at the increasing effort it takes to recover from conflict, and have to decide if we will willingly go back in the ring.

It is romantic and popular to propose that love means going back in the ring no matter what. I don’t know that this concept is in anyone’s best interest. I think each relationship and each situation has to be evaluated for what it is, and each person has to consider the personal cost for continuing to engage people who cause them suffering. I know my limitations, and I am usually a very good judge of character. I can see that someone I love is fundamentally good, but also incapable of change. Juxtapose that with friends who, though I may have struggles with them, I know in my gut that they are walking the same path I am and we will converge at some point. The love (agape love) is there and I can count on them not to bruise me in their own best interest.

Then there are those I love who I can’t really count on.

This is tough stuff, and I know it is hardly unique to me. For anyone out there seeking resolution, I am sending you my very deepest prayer for peace.

Thoughts on Editing, and That Pesky Axe

I’ve always been an editor.  I’m probably a better editor than I am a writer.  Only recently have I become quite serious about advancing my talent in this area into a full-time professional job, and consequently only recently have I discovered an ugly truth:

Writers hate editors.

Since I am both a writer and an editor, it is often difficult for me to see what someone who just wants to write sees about the editorial process.  If you aren’t careful, you can isolate yourself from a writer so completely and so permanently that you never work together again.

Therein may lie the key word, together.

The writer works alone to produce his or her work.  Then the editor works alone to review the work for issues that stand in the way of the most complete, effective product possible.  When you return an edited piece to a writer, you must hand it gently, and kindly, and with a clear understanding that the outright corrections and strong suggestions are not a commentary on the person who penned the original words.  This is very difficult to do, and requires a two-way relationship.  I can do everything I know how to do to deliver constructive criticism well, but if the writer is defensive or completely unable to view his or her work objectively, things are not going to work.

Jim Kelley has a good article on some of this difficulty.

Unfortunately, the craft of cutting is undervalued in a world where writers are paid by the word. And it shows; you don’t have to look very hard to find padded work in print. Yet clearly it is precision which separates the journeyman from the master. Perhaps the way to grow as a writer is to shrink your manuscripts. Or, as Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch so memorably put it, “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it whole-heartedly and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings.”

The concept of “kill your darlings” (as an agent paraphrased at the James River Writers conference this month) is a spot-on metaphor for how writers feel.  I know the feeling.  I’ve written pages that I love, and yet they do not support the story well.  Sometimes it’s not even a series of pages, it’s a beautiful paragraph to which you are very attached, that you believe expresses something important and reflective of your identity.  The hard truth is, if it doesn’t belong there, someone has to ax it.  It’s not usually the writer, it’s the editor who gets blood on her hands.

I take seriously the joy of writing.  I would never deliberately squash the happiness of someone who is discovering the satisfaction and self-awareness that writing can bring to life.  This is a two-way relationship though — I have a role, and the writer has a role.

Old Yeller would not be the same story if the boy who loved the dog most hadn’t been the one to pull the trigger.

Love your writing enough to know when something has to change.

(What are the qualities of the best editors you’ve had?  The best writers?  What do you think contributes to a writer’s ability to hear an editor’s advice, and what helps an editor be effective with writers?  Are there just some things that won’t ever evolve past a certain point?)