My laptop screen looked like a watery mess. I blamed it on my head cold. The growing pile of tear-stained tissues told me otherwise.
This was not to say I did not have a great experience with the editorial mentoring process. I did. I had a brilliant experience. I was very excited when Matt Weinkam, the prose editor for Gordon Square Review, offered me an editorial mentorship. But after the initial excitement, I wondered how my essay could be revised. After all, the essay I had submitted to GSR was a complete piece. Wasn’t it?
Matt’s thoughtful and generous comments reassured me. He understood what I was trying to achieve: a sense of cultural dis-location, weaved through with my struggles to attain career and personal fulfillment. He thought that adding some detailed descriptions would make the essay more meaningful to the reader.
That was the afternoon when I worked my way through a box of tissues. Memories – sweet and salty – came flooding to the surface. Sensitive friends would not prod at these safely hidden memories. In this instance, Matt was not a sympathetic friend. He was much better; he was my editor. An insightful and encouraging editor.
In the first revision, I doubled the word count of my original piece. I wrestled with unruly memories, trying to shape them into engaging snippets of descriptions. I researched several ideas and decided to introduce the theme of food more prominently. I shared my concern with Matt about seeming too self-indulgent when writing about my feelings. I tried to strike a balance between not being overly sentimental and being emotionally authentic. Authenticity is an area I care about, especially when writing non-fiction. I try to be fair in my representations but I have made peace with the idea that my story is only one out of many possible versions of the truth. Our memories are fluid and shaped by our own interpretations of events.
Major changes in the second revision were then driven by an attempt to clarify and link the themes across the different sections of the essay. I swapped out a couple of descriptions for some childhood memories that I thought would work better in introducing some of the themes.
Final edits were brutal, surprisingly so. We had done the heavy lifting of the revision by then. Matt wanted to cut out some lines which I thought were beautiful; he thought they did not serve the story. I recoiled at the thought of ‘killing my darlings’. However, I subsequently saw his point of view, and tucked those lines away in a separate ‘murdered darlings’ file.
I am proud of the work Matt and I have done to arrive at the final version of ‘Dis-locations’. My original intentions for the essay have been preserved but it now has a richer level of detail. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with Matt. His feedback and suggestions have been invaluable in helping me write a fuller and more complete version of ‘Dis-locations’.
Carol Pang’s short stories and essays have been published in the Champion Fellas anthology (Word Works), won the second prize in the 2016 New Asian Writing Short Story competition and published in a chapbook. She worked in the corporate and financial services sectors in London, England and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for close to 15 years before changing her career. She currently teaches English to both adults and young learners. She is a proud recent holder of a BA (Hons) in English Literature (1st Class) from the Open University UK.