I was compiling a list of the articles I authored for Myths & Misconceptions today for a friend, listening to Rex Navarrette (Pinoy comic, really funny) in the background. Looking at my originals compared to what the editors published, it got me to thinking about the sentence I hear the most from people who say ‘I want to write’:
“Oh, I don’t think I could handle being edited.”
If you can’t handle being edited, you are writing for personal enjoyment only, because not only will you be edited, you need to be edited. The author is not the whole process, nor even necessarily the most important aspect of the process. Nearly all published work has aspects of collaboration. I am not saying that one must never argue with an editor; I can and I have. You can argue for a usage or a phrase or a description if you can justify its stet (‘let stand as set’…the term for canceling an edit) in terms of making the writing better, provided you have taken into consideration the space issues the publication faces. ‘Because this turn of phrase sets up a joke later’ is a good one. ‘Because this descriptive bit will orphan a later paragraph if nerfed’ is another.
What is not a good one: ‘Because my ego is bound up in my cleverness.’
A good example would be the piece I authored for Armchair Reader: World War II on the Warsaw Ghetto Rising of 1943. It was a very difficult and painful piece for me for several reasons, difficult enough there is only one person who has ever heard the full tale, haunting even to see on the page in the printed book. I suggested two titles: Masada 1943 and “Juden Haben Waffen!” (this being what the SS cutthroats yelled out when the Jewish fighters opened up with their very limited supply of firearms). I thought the first title was brilliant, evocative, and incorporated a bit of my own soul’s blood that poured that terrible day and night of my career. I offered the second in case they didn’t like the first, knowing I was emotionally bound up in the piece.
The publisher used the second title, as I learned when I got my comps. A part of me was crushed–but that was so me! Obviously, it would have been entirely too late to complain; perhaps less obviously, it would have been very unwise of me to lobby real hard beforehand. The editors make those decisions and the author needs to either be okay with it, or get okay with it, because my emotional problems are not something the editors can be expected to own. Plus, if I really really wanted them to use my pet title, it was very foolish of me to present an alternative which they might take.
Do I still think my first title was much better? Oh, hell yes. But that is because I am emotionally bound up with it, and my judgment is deeply biased. My editors’ judgment was not.
I am not the whole process. And if I try to assert myself as though I am, I will no longer even have a place in the process.