A wife and husband hash out their roles as writer and editor. This can’t end well.

Stacey: Ugh. It’s that time of the month again.

That’s right. The pulled-taffy process whereoupon I write a brilliant, witty piece, and Mike very carefully edits it down to something he thinks is good. It usually begins something like …

Mike: The “pulled-taffy” comparison is really good. I’m not sure I would have suggested the menstrual reference, but it’s pretty funny — I think it works.

But, um, I thought we both felt the same way about our editing process, painful though it may be — that it pretty much always helps craft your pieces into something we both think is good, not just something I think is good.

So, anyway, what else would you say about our writing/editing process? How does it grow out of or reflect on our relationship? Any specific, funny, or relevant details or anecdotes that you think would fit here? How about some of that vivid, poetic imagery that you do so well?

Stacey: Well, to be honest, you usually improve my work. That said — I don’t always agree with your edits, especially when you want me to sum up the point of my piece in a tidy little paragraph at the end. I hate it when you do that. But I also usually give in, because it’s midnight on Sunday and I’m exhausted and it’s much easier just to let you do what it is that you do.

We both know that it’s always been hard for us to work on a creative process together — either with visual art, or music, or written work. I still don’t know why that is. We’re both artistically inclined in a  lot of ways — you would think it would be easier for us to enjoy honing our art together. I think we’re both too stubborn, though.

But we’re doing better tonight — it’s only 9 pm, and we’re well into the editing process. An excellent start, I think.

Mike: Hm. I seem to have put myself in the difficult position of (a) continuing to portray myself as a loving, supportive husband, while also (b) defending my approach to editing and (c) not coming off as a total jerk for pointing out that Crunchable’s style is to write “9 p.m.” instead of “9 pm” and that you’ve accidentally put two spaces between “a” and “lot.”

So I’ll just tiptoe around that and ask: How would you make that description stronger? How would you capture that emotion of being exhausted on Sunday night? You tell the reader, “It’s always been hard for us to work on a creative process together”; how would you show what that feels like or how it plays out?

(I’m going to pass the computer back to you and go duck and cover somewhere.)

Stacey: Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha. Well. No one said this was going to be pretty.

It’s not the little edits that bother me — the 9 p.m. v. 9 pm. Eh. That’s nothing. And a lot of the editing stress is my fault — if I got my pieces to you sooner, then we probably wouldn’t find ourselves in a midnight standoff quite so often.

But still.

It’s the harried, rushed, gotta-put-it-to-press-NOW vibe that suffuses our house most Sunday nights. After a long week of work, of kids, of going, going, going — I’d like a chance to take it easy on a Sunday night. I want to put my feet up on my smudged couch and relax.

But instead, I sit down and try to think of something interesting in my life to write about. Something more interesting than my 4-year-old’s fascination with bug poop. Something more stunning than the fact that my 2-year-old has discovered a pterodactyl-like screech that nearly always gets him whatever he has been denied. Something other than gardening or the weather, which are two of my favorite fall-back writing inspirations.

Writing used to come easily to me, breathing ink on paper, respirating my ideas into life — that doesn’t happen anymore. Writing is a process now, pondered over, idea after idea wadded and tossed at my mental wastebasket. Nothing is good enough for me; it can’t possibly be good enough for you.

So maybe the problem is more with me than you, after all.

Mike: Before I return to the matter at hand, allow me to say: Ooh! Those are excellent descriptions — the pterodactyl-like screech, the ideas wadded and tossed at my mental wastebasket, the putting your feet up on your smudged couch. (I might have suggested “magic-marker-smudged couch,” but that’s quibbling.)

But, to return to your point: I don’t think this is just your problem. I agree our mutual stubbornness plays a big role. But another part of it is the fundamental imbalance of power in the writer-editor relationship.

One of my friends at the newspaper where I work is a layout editor; he’s the one who figures out how to fit my work onto that big rectangle of newsprint every day. That means he decides how long my stories may be, how much space they have for the headlines, and so on. Months ago, he started giving me ridiculously precise lengths for my stories — such as 10.172 column inches on the page — and feigning outrage when I was a fraction of an inch off. He also started demanding that I refer to him in all communications as “Mister Sir.”

I think he’s joking — but what am I going to do? With a few keystrokes and mouse clicks, he could reduce my 10.172-column-inch story down to, say, 5.284, thereby obliterating half of everything I had to show for my entire workday. So I just keep calling him “Mister Sir” and periodically promising to bring him tributes of baked goods.

I try to be sensitive to this dynamic when I’m editing other people’s work, knowing the discomfort and vulnerability that comes with having their creations judged and picked apart by someone else. I always tell Crunchable writers to think of my first round of edits as “suggestions” and to let me know when I’ve pushed it too far. You’re also good at reining me in; that’s why I ask you to read over most everything I edit — especially on those pieces on which I’m tempted to use a heavier hand in rewriting.

But it’s still fundamentally a power imbalance. And when that imbalance grafted onto the dynamics of our married relationship, on top of the stresses of work and the kids and everything else — well, let’s just say it doesn’t always go over so well when I make “suggestions” that you need a slightly more developed conclusion to your essay.


Um …

I hate to point this out, but we kind of need a conclusion to this piece here.

But let the record show that I’m not asking you to tie all this up in a “tidy little paragraph” here at the end! No! I … ah … well, go ahead and end it however you think is best, dear. You get the last word. And I promise I won’t even edit it.

Stacey: You are a dirty rotten scoundrel. You just didn’t want to write the ending.

Article © 2010 by Stacey Duck