An Editor’s Confession by Chelsey Clammer

Saturday, August 13, 2022

As an editor, it’s a little absurd that I fear revising words. Not all words. Just mine. I can edit the hell out of your words and bask in the task but sit me down in front of my work and I cringe. 
It’s about trusting myself. Or something of that sort. Something about how I fear that I won’t like a single letter of what I’ve written. That while I’m writing, it feels powerful and meaningful and makes sense and has a solid rhythm to it. And then I re-read it. Usually I’m right on that rhythm part because I can get that beat down, but making that beat say something is a different sort of story. It’s a revising story and sometimes when I go to revise, I feel like I’ve shifted genres because when I read it, I’m suddenly in a horror story of words.
I almost wrote “shifted genders,” not “genres,” in that previous sentence because I’ve been thinking a lot about genders lately. And how they shift. How I haven’t spent much time considering that gender is also a process of revision. Then I started dating a trans man. Now, I see the way that gender is a narrative we create for ourselves. Even if we don’t physically shift dichotomous genders, we revise the way our gender feels to us throughout our lives. The “tomboy” phase, the full-blown butch phase, then to the powerful femme feeling, then in between the two has been my gender trajectory.
When we first started dating, my boyfriend told me about how his first top surgery got botched, so he had to go in for a revision. Those words—that one word—struck me. I know what revision is. That editor profession—take something that’s not working and mess around with it until sings in both sound and meaning. I considered my own revision process.
“Were you scared to get top surgery?”
“Oh hell no!” my boyfriend replied, pausing in his constant stroking of his glorious, testosterone-induced tuft of a beard to gesticulate with his hands. “I was so excited! I was getting the body I wanted.”
I considered this the next day as I faced my own revisions. Not on my body, but my body of work. It felt just as personal, and I sensed my perspective shift. I don’t have to fear this work. Even if I hate every word I wrote, that’s okay. It’s almost the point. I’m here to revise—to get the body of work I want. To make myself, my words sink into my skin and that narrative space I initially envisioned. If not yearned for. 
After this conversation with my boyfriend, I started not to fear the revisions as much. Writing, like gender, shifts. It’s why we show up to the page—to ourselves. To bring our art, our bodies, ourselves, and our lives into the space in which we want to exist. And that’s something to get excited about. 
Chelsey Clammer is the author of BodyHome (Hopewell Publications, 2015) and Circadian (Red Hen Press, 2017), which was the winner of the Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award. Her work has appeared in The Normal School, Black Warrior Review, The Rumpus, McSweeney’s, Hobart, Essay Daily, and The Water~Stone Review, among more than one hundred other publications. She is an online creative writing instructor for WOW! Women On Writing. Chelsey received her MFA in Creative Writing from Rainier Writing Workshop. Her next collection of essays, Human Heartbeat Detected, which looks at the ways in which we are "human" to one another, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press (August 30, 2022). Chelsey is currently working on a new collection about the empowering women in her life. Visit her website at


Sioux Roslawski said...

Chelsey--Wow! Your boyfriend is brave. If I were him, and an operation got botched, I don't know what I'd do. Stop mid-process? Dive into an bottomless bowl of ice cream? Not sure...

Where can your book of essays be purchased (when it debuts later this month)? I was one of your students a year or two ago, so I know how stellar these essays will be.

Great post, of course. I love revision because I love the act of carving/sculpting. I can't do it with clay or marble, but on paper, I can...

Sioux Roslawski said...

Duh. I clicked on the link, and preordered your collection. Yahoo, Chelsey!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Chelsey ~ This post is so inspiring, and a great way to look at revision. Even if our work gets botched, we must keep striving to get the body of work we've always wanted. That's exciting! You may need to do a follow up post on using transitions in writing. :)

Sioux ~ You're going to LOVE Chelsey's latest collection--it's SO good. My favorite yet!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Chelsey - Awesome piece! I love revising and watching my work change and grow. But I have to admit that I don't always see how it needs to change to grow. Ang and I have discussed this - how hard it is for the writer to spot the macro edits they need to make before they can make the individual words sing.

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