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On the rewarding nature of editing

Updated on: 15 September,2023 07:15 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Rosalyn D`mello |

Being an editor has exposed me to a wealth of artistic practices. Having the words of others as one’s primary material fosters a sense of detachment, which allows one to work in service of the text

On the rewarding nature of editing

Most writers are simply too close to the raw material to allow for editorial intuition. Representation pic

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On the rewarding nature of editing

Rosalyn D’MelloProfessionally speaking, in the last three years, since I moved to Italy, my work as an editor has been sustaining my livelihood, not my art criticism. I’m not complaining at all. Editing is easily my preferred job profile. My practice as an art critic and a writer feeds into it. But because my primary material is usually other people’s words, there is this liberating sense of detachment from the text. And this is, in my opinion, the reason why all writers need good editors, because that distance is crucial. It allows you to work in service of the text, whether you are the writer or the editor. Most writers are simply too close to the raw material to allow for editorial intuition. Because they are aware of exactly when and how a particular sentence came to be formed, they form an attachment to its tonality. Only an editor who is removed from the text has the keen, fresh eye needed to let it shine.

Working as an editor has exposed me to a wealth of incredible writing and artistic practices. One of my earliest, best-paying gigs was a reader on more and other-than-human relationships and perspectives. Having to closely proofread and occasionally edit using a magnifying glass because the footnotes and bibliography were in such fine text was intellectually thrilling. I remember feeling an intense high reading each essay on a range of topics, from the lives of bees to the symbiont that lives in the guts of cows that digests the grass they eat, their presence thus forming the premise of bovine existence to an essay on the inherent gender and racial bias in AI and that most fantastic work, ‘My Words to Victor Frankenstein above the Village of Chamounix’ by Susan Stryker that is subtitled ‘Performing Trans Rage’.

This was also where I first encountered the writings of Karan Barad, and other prominent contemporary thinkers across disciplines. I was paid significantly more than I had been paid for my writing work. 

From 2010, when I moved from Mumbai to Delhi as a working professional, until I left, in 2020, for Italy, for familial reasons, I survived financially as a freelance writer. This was a hustle unlike any other I have known. I was fortunate enough to have worked for at least a year at Time Out Mumbai, until they fired me for not performing to their standards. It meant that I had a byline. My first job in Delhi was in children’s publishing, but I tried my best to seek out networks and pitch and get published. My most notable byline at the time was for a magazine now revered for its long-form essays. I was commissioned to write about art, a subject around which, as a literature student, I wouldn’t have dreamed of touching, had it not been for the fact that from 2009 onwards, I had been editing the art criticism of an art critic with a literature background—Richard Bartholomew. Moonlighting as a freelance writer meant constantly hustling, always trying to prove to yourself and to others that you are capable, that you are worthy, that you need to be paid on time, that you need to be paid at all. For a while, having a full-time job on the side in either marketing or sales helped take the pressure off my own personal writing, allowing me space to think, dream, imagine.

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I am so content to be at a place where I can reflect on that decade and consider it a chapter in my life. I was going to write ‘closed’ chapter, but it is incredibly evident how my current sense of security is tied into those years; how the full-time editorial position I have at the moment is the result of the networks I built at that time, just as my editorial aptitude is a direct consequence of all the years I served as an art critic. 

My introspection into this professional aspect of my life was triggered by a recent incident when a curator whose texts I had edited seemed irked by my interventions. My superior, a wonderful person, was clear that I had done a great job, and that the reservations were stemming from something external. As I was wrestling with how to respond kindly and professionally, I still found myself suddenly full of self-doubt. I had to remind myself that I had indeed worked in service of the text, and that my edits were grounded in scholarly and intellectual rigour. After all these years, I had to find ways of holding myself by validating myself. I suppose self-doubt is like this pall shadow that insists on following you. Except, in the last few years I’ve gotten so much better at exorcising it soon after sensing its presence. 

Maybe, as an editor, I have learned to recognise that even the most brilliant academics, artists and curators harbour deep insecurities. Freelance writing and editing have shown me what humility and grace look like.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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