by Will Viharo
You work hard completing a story or article. Every word counts, at least to you. There is a reason for every single sentence. It is perfect as is. You submit it to your editor, filled with pride and a sense of accomplishment.
Then he or she returns it to you with a lot of “notes” and “suggestions” to remove huge chunks of the piece, basically amputating your body of work. At least that how it feels.
Chin up. Most likely, your masterpiece has not only been approved, but also improved.
No writer likes to see his or her work edited. Okay, I’m only speaking for myself.
Actually, I hardly ever mind making requested changes to a manuscript, as long as everything left intact in the final version is mine. There is a big difference between an editor honing your work, and rewriting it. If my byline is on a published piece, I want to own every word.
If you’re self-publishing, you get final call (or the readers will). Creative control is one of the upsides of the DIY digital revolution. The downside is sometimes inferior work will slip through your own subjective, myopic cracks.
This is how smart, savvy editors earn their income, and augment yours.
“Submission” Has More Than One Meaning
Anyone’s work, even that of seasoned professionals, can benefit from the objectivity of an editor’s eyes, regardless of how experienced that editor may be. Even if they’re not familiar with your style, they can offer a fresh, balanced and possibly enlightening perspective. In fact, especially if they’re not familiar with your work. That means they have no context or agenda. They’re coming at it cold – just like a paying customer would.
Naturally, everyone has his or her own opinions and they’re not always definitive, including those of veteran editors. But if a particular piece of work, whether fiction or non-fiction, has been specifically requested or commissioned by someone willing to publish it for profit, you owe it to them to consider and most likely yield to their requests (or demands). You may just learn something in the process, too. In fact, you both might. It’s a symbiotic relationship, at least ideally speaking.
A good editor will work with, not against, an author. That means an exchange of ideas, not a dictatorship. Sometimes an editor’s “suggestions” are negotiable, while other times they are deal breakers. You need to remain flexible as a professional author. That is, if you want to get paid.
Don’t always consider makes changes as “compromises,” either. Remove your pride from the project, but not your self-confidence.
Possibly the most challenging part of the editorial interaction is when you are asked (or told) to cut out words, sentences, and sometimes entire sections, for reasons of space or narrative flow.
Artistic trauma aside, this often painful process is actually made much simpler given our contemporary technological tool set. First thing you do when you get an editor’s notes is make a working copy for yourself, so your original version has been preserved for posterity, even if no one else will ever read it.
Then go ahead and get it over with.
Just Rip the Band-Aid Off!
If no specific segment was designated for the chopping block, that’s even better for you. You can decide for yourself where exactly the fat is, and cut it yourself. The easiest way to locate this bit of excess is to read your work back to yourself. Anything that sounds extraneous or redundant – which often happens when you’re hypnotized by your own genius into unbridled stream-of-consciousness – should be highlighted and deleted.
Don’t panic or mourn the sudden loss of your loved ones. You still have your original manuscript for reference. You can always put the missing pieces back in. But ask yourself honestly: do you really miss them now?
Probably not. Emotional attachment is not always the sign of a healthy relationship. The result should be not only your best possible work in its most pristine form, but renewed trust in the instincts of your editor. And yes, pat yourself on the back for bravely excising your own creative ego. You’re often better off without it.
As with many types of surgery, the anticipation of the agony is far worse than the actual procedure. Especially if you use the proper anesthetic, which in your case can be anything from a shot of booze to the promise of a paycheck. Or both.
As William Faulkner once famously advised, “In writing, you must kill your darlings.” Consider it an act of mercy – for the sake of your readers, as well as your own literary reputation.
PHOTO: SMABS SPUTZER