Tuesday, November 17, 2015

It's an Editor, Not the Voice of God

by Susan

A good editor can pull the weeds that are choking your writing. They can find the places where it doesn't flow and suggest relevant additions, places where you may need to go deeper.

They are also human. They're not always right.

I've done my share of overzealous editing and had to apologize afterward. As they say, the greatest drive is not to love nor hate, but to edit ...change ... revise ...alter ... modify ... rewrite another's copy. I am not the only person who's taken it a smidge too far.

The trick as a writer is knowing when to listen, when to push back, and when to walk away.

Not long ago, I shared my decision to withdraw an essay from an anthology due to an excessive demand for rights. That, however, was not the only issue. Heavy-handed editing was the other.

As the revisions went back and forth, and the conversations took place by email, I felt I was pushed into an agenda that was not mine. I wanted to focus on the personal experience while they had a political bent. I had the feeling they had an ax to grind, and they wanted me to at least whet the stone for them. I found my words making a point I did not want to make.

I was frankly relieved I had another reason to walk away and didn't have to fight that fight. I do not regret it.

On the other hand, I had an editor contact me wanting to publish a poem, provided I agreed to some revisions. My first reaction was, "No, no, no! Mine, mine, MINE!!" Mercifully, I didn't respond in that state. On second review, they were right. I accepted their guidance, and they published the poem.

So how do you know what to do? The first step is to do what's recommended between drafts: let it rest. Set it aside for a day. Read it with fresh eyes when you're not smarting from the implication that your writing is less than perfect.

Then ask yourself a few questions. Are you simply resisting for the sake of resisting? Many of us have encountered the writer in a group who asks for a critique, then rejects every suggestion on the spot. Don't be that person.

But are they merely pulling the weeds, or replanting the garden completely? Does it no longer sound like you? (Ideally, it should sound like a better version of you.) Are they pushing you to a conclusion that's not yours?

When an editor suggests revisions, give their suggestions thoughtful consideration. They have greater experience shaping words into a finished, publishable piece. You won't lose your identity as a writer if you accept some changes.

Editors are also human. They're not always right. It's OK to push back. It's OK to walk away. It's your decision.


  1. Sage advice, Susan. I agree that accepting minor changes in words or syntax often makes writing better. Sometimes not necessarily better, but not different. But I also won't accept changes that make the piece unrecognizable as my work or that bend my ideas. Thanks for reminding us of this. Great title.

    1. It's a line I have a hard time with. Perhaps in part because I haven't gone enough rounds getting published. Thanks for stopping by, Art.

  2. I agree, great advice!! I think waiting until you are reacting without undue emotion is the best possible thing to do. I would also suggest to someone in this situation that they might run it by a neutral party. But most of the time, listening to yourself is going to turn out the best.


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