You know that hopeful feeling you get when your pages come back from an editor, but then you open it up and all you see is red? It feels like a jab to the guts when you realize it looks as if someone killed a chicken and sprayed their sacrificial blood all over your pages. And then you understand it’s not blood. Those are edits. Hundreds and hundreds of the bloody things and you feel as if it’s not a chicken’s blood, but your own ripped out insides someone has danced on and smeared all over your work.
The first time I wrote something for public consumption, I’d been working as an intern for the United Way on a project to promote volunteering. I wrote a sixty second Public Service Announcement and a longer promotional video scheduled to be performed by news anchors of five networks in Minneapolis. I also shot man-on-the-street interviews of people, capturing their experiences about volunteering. Considering that I was volunteering to write it all, the topic seemed apropos.
I was young, enthusiastic and felt myself extremely lucky to work on a real project, to hear my words coming from the most prominent TV news professionals at the time and to see the work played during commercial breaks in a major market.
When I brought the scripts in for their first review, I was nervous as hell, but prepared for it all to be ripped apart. There were words I’d formed a bond with, so it was hard to see some of them go, but after hours and hours of discussion and multiple rewrites, we ended up with something that was pretty awesome. Meeting all of the news folks and watching them read my words from the teleprompter was an amazing experience. I’ll never forget how challenging it all was, or the satisfaction I had with the finished products. Even better, seeing the PSA on the air. Unforgettable.
But it all started with pages that had turned from black to a sea of red, not once but multiple times. I learned writing by committee is hard on you, but when you’re prepared for the bruises they don’t seem to hurt as much.
My most recent experience, I hadn’t been as mentally prepared to see all of the fiery letters. I thought I’d started out with a pretty good story. Sure it needed some tweaks here and there but after the millions of words I’ve written over the years since that first project, all the books and blogs and scripts and training videos and documentaries, I hadn’t been prepared for the arterial blood flow I found on the pages.
It hurt. A lot. There were tears and at least one sleepless night.
It knocked me down a few pegs at a time when I probably needed it and reminded me that sometimes it’s better to approach every project like an intern. When did I think I knew so much?
I also remembered that, sometimes it’s best to look at some words like an ill-fated relationship. You can love them and want to keep them and imagine yourself with them forever, but if they have to go, they have to go. It may hurt at first, but fuck ‘em. After you give it some time, you may realize they only stunk up the place.