A few months into my job as an editor, my boss came over, plunked a manuscript onto my desk and said, “Fix this.” My deadline was days–not weeks or months. I knew very little about what I was supposed to do, but trusted my instincts. I love an editorial challenge (usually) so I jumped at the chance to shepherd this project to its state of perfection. The prose had real sparkle, but needed pruning–correcting of typos, word choices and removing all mention of feminine hygiene products. I ate and slept this story to the point where I grew to love it, warts and all. By the time I turned it in to production, I developed separation anxiety and didn’t want to see it go (though part of me was glad for the sleep).
A year after this, my boss-adjacent came into my office and said, “Fix this,” then gave me a heavy manuscript. Deadline: three days. No sweat! Sure, I had a new artist boyfriend to distract me, but while waiting for him at the super-trendy Bedford stop in Brooklyn, I edited like a maniac, tuning out my surroundings and, sadly, the boyfriend. Could I help it if I was deadline-obsessed? It remains one of my favorite books. The relationship did not work out.
More recently–like say, in the last ten years–boss-adjacent decided to schedule a book and I had two days to edit it–on screen, which I hate. I took a few deep breaths, knowing I was about to embark on the mother of all editing experiences. With plenty of Sprite, M&Ms, and curse words, I carried out my assignment. Again, I loved the story within the first few chapters and twitched with panic when I had to let it go. Now and then, I’ll hear a song, eat an M&M, see a cafe, and remember the many hours I spent on a particular book.
All these express editing experiences were tests, ones every editor should have, though not the ideal condition. Recently (like within the past few years) and without too much guilt–maybe a little–I went to an editor and said, “Fix this.” She had the same reaction I did–eager to take this all-important test.
When you’re forced to edit too quickly, you focus extra-hard on two things: 1. not missing anything 2. not rushing too much. In some ways, express editing can be advantageous. You immerse yourself in the work and never lose your flow. I’ve edited books over months and sometimes the copyeditor will come back and I can hear her/him wondering, “What were you thinking by letting this go through?” Even with a year-long stretch, I try to stay in that one story. The momentum is not as strong as when my imaginary deadline Furies are screaming in my ears. Express editing is not my #1 choice, but I can see how much I’ve learned from it.