WRITE: Arguing with the Editor: Yes or No?
Had you lived in the Pieper household during the first few years of my professional writing career, you’d have heard many similar rants. If my long-suffering husband disagreed, he never told me. In fact, he did everything possible to sympathize with his wounded writer wife.
What I did wrong: I failed to recognize the value of the editor’s work. What I did right: I never took my comments to the editor.
Everyone needs an editor, as I mentioned to one of my blog regulars who found an error in a recent post. “Develop rhino skin,” the more experienced among us like to tell new writers. We mean it. Even the best writer or the strongest grammarian needs a second pair of eyes. An editor provides those eyes along with the experience to know what to cut, what to change, and when to cut or change it.
“So what?” you may wonder. Today, I want to encourage acceptance and adherence to an editor’s fixes, critiques, and comments because on too many recent occasions, I’ve witnessed a dangerous syndrome: arguing with the editor. This happens when a writer (usually via e-mail) takes the rants from the privacy of home or office back to the editor’s desk. She complains about the removal of sentences. He moans about the lost voice. She whines, “But I thought you’d work with me.” He grouses about the posted editorial guidelines. And everyone loses.
Since I sit behind both writing and editing desks, I experience this issue from each side. But whenever I consider it, I land on the side of respect. As an editor, I respect the writer’s expertise on a story, a subject or situation. I recognize the source of the story, and I’m not it. When I work with experienced writers, I recognize that their voices won’t—and shouldn’t—sound like my own.
But as a writer, I must also respect my editor’s expertise. If eliminating a word here or a phrase there helps communicate truth, so be it. If reworking a paragraph or changing a chapter makes the teaching or story flow, let’s do it.
In the end, both editor and writer must respect the reader. If we can work together to produce a product that lives, moves, and communicates truth, we’ve both reached our goal.
Yes, minor changes can seem major. Some editors are less sensitive than others. Your article may not seem as much your own work after editing, and your book may not appear in print quite as you had envisioned it. But remember that someone cared enough to edit it. Someone also cared enough to publish it. And, as any writer knows, a published piece beats a WIP (“Work In Progress”) or perennial query every time.
Editors can make mistakes. On my book projects, I’ve come back to my editor to discuss decisions that affected meaning (not grammar). But I only did so after years of experience and after building relationships that allowed me this privilege. Professional writers trust their editors’ wisdom.
Don’t argue with the editor. Close your mouth (or your e-mail) and keep writing.
Have you argued with an editor? Do you agree or disagree with my advice? Please share your thoughts.
(Note: This post is repurposed from a 2010 entry because of several recent questions. The old post lost its formatting when I changed blog hosts, so I wanted to include its contents here.)