Red Pens and Panic Attacks

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This month I’ve been ruminating on the various methods of editing, the fear of editing and the pain of editing. I thought I’d finish up this topic with an anecdote about editing…

When I was in high school, we all lived in dread of the senior thesis. It was a ten page research paper designed to get us all ready for college. I know now that ten pages is only a trifle. But at 16, contemplating writing that much on one topic, ten pages might as well have been a hundred pages.

“I heard she buys a whole box of red pens at the beginning of the year.”   Erin said wide-eyed and serious.” And they’re gone by spring.”

My friends all lounged around the closed concession stand in the gym lobby.  It was our favorite after school hang out spot.  Several of my friends were in the senior English class.  They had just submitted their first drafts.  There was tension, fear and relief.

“She makes the papers bleed.” Dan retorted gleefully. He was one those who took pleasure in watching his friend squirm, even though he was feeling the pressure having just handed in his first draft.  Ellie looked as if she’d faint.  She was already stressed beyond words and she was still in her junior year.

Liz chimed in, “but the bleeding is good.”  Liz’s eyes were bright with the prospect of writing and editing. “The blood means that you are heading in the right direction.”

Ellie cringed, “Red ink means I’ve failed. I’ll never pass.  I’ll never graduate.”

Candy laid an encouraging hand on Ellie’s shoulder.  “No one escapes without a bleeding paper. You’ll be fine.”

“Dipping with bloody red ink!”  Sam jeered.

“Well, she’s called Mrs. Mark-a-lot for a reason.”  Dan chuckled.

Ellie burst into tears, thinking of her academic career vanishing before it had even started.

My senior English teacher lived up to her nickname.  The papers bled ink, and there were many tears, groans, and terror.  I can safely say I did better than survive, I passed. (So did Ellie – with honors, no less).  But there was something to be said about Mrs. Mark-a-lot’s methods.  She forced us all to work on our papers in sections and drafts.  Our first drafts were painfully slashed, hacked and mutilated.  But we were given the chance to heal, repair and rebuild our papers; thus making them better.  If we did it right the second & third drafts would bleed less and less until it only came back with a few scrapes.  Because of her, I learned to love the red pen as much as Liz and saw the benefits of a good long editing process for my writing.


About LizzyBeth

There is a Story inside of me that I must give a voice. I write so that imagination can take me to Faerie and I can catch a glimpse of the Otherworld and hopefully so will you.

Posted on January 25, 2013, in Editing, Humor, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Rachel Burkholder, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. The student’s paper, reeking red with ink,
    Looked rather messy,
    Littered with the carcase
    Of another stillborn essay.

  2. My freshman year of high school I had a teacher who made us sign a contract (and our parents too) the first week acknowledging the workload for her course o.O She also told us that she got a nasty call from a mother once about how her red pen had “scarred [the] poor girl’s fragile psyche for life”…so our teacher said that she no longer would grade our papers with red pens. Instead, she took quite a lot of pleasure in making them bleed in purple, green, and whatever fun color she happened to grab 😉

  3. You know you’ve succeeded as a prof when you are attempting to grade another essay and realize that your red pen (fresh from the beginning of the semester) has run out of ink. It’s a good feeling. 😀

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