Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Don't Shoot the Editor

Recently, I received a complimentary copy of a magazine with a piece I wrote.  It is a bi-monthly publication that has a daily Bible reading with a short reflection on that passage.  As a neophyte writer, it's still a novelty to see something I wrote in print, so I quickly browsed through the magazine looking for my contribution.  When I found it, I was disappointed.  The piece ends with a brief prayer, which they included as I had written, but then added the Lord's Prayer to fill the space remaining on the page.  I didn't like it.  It didn't fit the theme I was developing.  It felt cobbled, sloppily tacked to the end of what I had written.  It wasn't my voice.  I value the Lord's Prayer, but I don't use it rote in my own prayer life.  I would never have written that myself. It put me in a bit of a funk.

A few days later I received a copy of an edited article I wrote for a magazine coming out in February 2012. The editor asked me to look through her edits and reply with any feedback. As I read through the article, I found that none of the edits were substantive.  Small changes in word order, replacing vague pronouns with clear nouns, and rewording a couple sentences was the entirety of the editing.  Ninety-nine percent of the article was left untouched.  I felt validated as a writer, pleased that little was altered.  In this case, my voice would come through clearly, unaltered by a stodgy editor in a remote windowless cubicle.

Soon after, I read Psalm 131
    My heart is not proud, O Lord
       my eyes are not haughty;
    I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
    But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
      like a weaned child with its mother,
      like a weaned child is my soul within me.

The weaned child as a picture of a still and quiet soul.  It's compelling.  Only my soul is decidedly not like a weaned child, stilled and quieted.  My soul is restless.  More like a suckling child, rooting for its mother's breast, frantic for nourishment, unsettled and impatient.  That's why I react so viscerally to any tampering with my writing.  It is an expression of the proud heart and haughty eyes that are resisted by the Psalmist.  Mine is an arrogant pen.

I write to teach.  If you've read many of my posts, you probably recognize that.  Writing for me begins with having something worth saying, a nugget of truth that is worth communicating.  Hopefully it is something insightful and rich.  Trite is trite, no matter how it is packaged.  Let me not be guilty of serving up junk food on a platter.  What I write must have substance.

But I also don't want to be guilty of serving up bland or half-baked entrees.  Once the nugget of truth is settled on, the challenge in writing is figuring out how to communicate that well.  It's this challenge that causes me to labor over words, write and re-write, and even allow for editors to modify what I have written.  It can be an agonizing process with more time spent staring at a computer screen, reading and re-reading, than spent actually writing.  Energy spent makes me feel invested in what I have written.

This effort is always in service to that nugget of truth I am trying to communicate.  It's a truth that is not mine.  I merely convey what is laid out in the Word of God.  I am the messenger. If that is true, then I need not be so possessive of the things I write, nor fret over whether my voice shines through.  Self-promotion can eclipse that fundamental purpose of communicating that nugget of truth. But ultimately, God can be trusted with that.  It's his truth, after all.

It's mine to rest my soul.  Still.  Quiet.  Weaned.  Lord make it so.
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