Recently, three authors whom I admire gave me a crash course in the color red. Two told me red symbolizes pain, anguish, and bloodshed. The other author showed me.
He took a sample of my writing and projected it against a wall for the class and me to study. First came the untouched opening of a chapter I had spent a month working on. The class and I read it, nodded, and waited for the edited version. I thought I was ready, but when the edits came on the screen, I saw red. And I don’t mean I was angry–the page was red, red, red.
As I tried to put on my “this-is-such-a-great-learning-opportunity” face, my eyes scanned for some black letters, some remnant of my creation. There were some, but not as many as I’d have liked. The room had gone silent. I couldn’t speak, so I nodded my understanding as often as was appropriate to show my critic that any time he wanted to move on to the next person’s sample, it was fine by me. I inwardly felt like a wrestler banging his hand against the mat for mercy, and I realized then that editors and critics don’t use red ink because it stands out clearer on the page. The symbolism was…perfect.
Red is a primary color. It’s only natural that editing–and hard editing at that–is a primary part of a writer’s life. It hurts like fire but writing would be nothing without it. When I got home after the class, I had over a dozen critiques to filter. It wasn’t easy. Some contradicted others’ critiques. Some I didn’t understand. Some were so spot-on, I kicked myself for days. But out of all those critiques, the ones I appreciated the most were the ones that told me straight out, “This and this don’t work.” While I personally needed the affirmation I also received, my writing needed the red.
Is there life after the color red? My sample chapter, unbelievably, lived to see another draft. And I learned that red has other symbolism besides pain. It also symbolizes vibrancy. After edits, writing is stronger, leaner, and more defined.
Now when I sit down to my work in progress, I write with red in mind, remembering that rough drafts will always be primitive and that there will always be red. I’ll never out-edit an editor, and someone will always be able to suggest improvements to my drafts. As a writer, it’s my job to take critiques into account and move on, because after the red fades, the ink of countless revisions will remain.