On Editors

I have a confession to make:  I really dislike dealing with editors.  I am not sure if writers in general have a toxic relationship with editors but I tend to find my relations with editors to be greatly irritating and frustrating [1].  There are a lot of reasons for that which probably are related to each other.  For one, I tend to be rather irritable in general when it comes to dealing with obstacles, and there is no question that editors are frequently an obstacle to publication, something which requires further unpackaging, I am aware.  In general, I have a very strong personal voice and a great deal of irritation at the way that this voice is not always well-respected by those who seek to edit it.  While I tend not to be irritated at copy-editing, as its value is something I can readily recognize and appreciate, I have less appreciation at more substantial editing, which I view to be a pernicious species of higher textual criticism in general that I am disinclined to view fondly.

What is the job of an editor?  In general, it may be said that editors are the gateway between authors and publication, and this is an unpleasant place to be.  A great deal of contemporary technology has sought to make it possible for every man to be his own editor, a phenomenon which is a great burden when it comes to making the sort of polished works that are regularly published by institutions but also something that has encouraged the proliferation of writers to explore their own personal voices without having that voice overly polished by corporate or institutional perspectives which tend to make everything sound more or less the same.  In general, I am greatly in favor of the lessening of the importance of editors when it comes to getting material to a potentially appreciative audience.  To be sure, most people’s voices are a bit rougher when they are edited lightly or not at all, but that is not a bad thing, as it is certainly a more honest approach than the usual.  Rough edges are a sign of authenticity, as much as they tend to be smoothed by editors, a process I particularly and intensely loathe.

My own attitude when it comes to the perspective of a writer is highly biased by being a writer whose personal voice has always been strong.  When an editor sends me request for a rewrite to tone down various matters or explain in a different way, my approach (which is thought and felt but seldom shared with the editor) is that if an editor wants something to be said in a particular way they should write it themselves.  Plenty of editors are good writers as well and use the institutions they serve as a way of promoting their own voice and their own perspective–and there is a genre for that which we call the editorial, where the editor’s byline is present and they are to be held accountable for what is said.  For the most part, though, it is the writer and not the editor who is to be held accountable for the words, and so the interference of the editor in trying to make something more bland and palatable and less authentically the voice of the writer is unwelcome because it is the writer who will have to answer for what is written anyway, and frequently the issue is that what is written is not nearly strong enough to shake what needs to be shaken and to stir what needs to be stirred.

Ideally, editing should be a process that does not inspire a writer to think of the editor as a meddling, incompetent hack who messes up someone’s writing and then complains about the lack of balance that results from the previous tampering done when it gets further along the reviewing process.  Admittedly, the previous statement expresses my own irritation at the editing process, but it need not be that way.  There are certainly cases where the judicious editing of material can be appreciated by an author who develops a long-term working relationship with someone who understands what the writer is trying to say and tailors the editing accordingly to better bring out what is intended, which can influence the writer to reflect on how one’s own personal style can be changed in light of this working relationship.  With rare exceptions, though, I have seldom had that positive of a relationship with my editors.  I do not know their own feelings in the matter, but I suspect that if I am irritated at them, they are probably also occasionally irritated at me, because their own agendas and my own do not always coincide.  We may share broad goals of seeing certain subjects talked about, but my own conflict tolerance may be greater than their own, and my own willingness to stand behind my specific and personal authorial voice far more important than my interest in making things appealing for others.  In general, I write for myself, to express my own voice and my own perspective, and the enjoyment of the reader, while not entirely absent from my considerations, is certainly a secondary or even a tertiary concern to me.  Given such circumstances, it is little wonder that editors and I would tend to clash so often.  It is a wonder that the mutual hostility is not even greater than it is, which I modestly ascribe to my own politeness if not good feeling for those with whom I clash swords.  I suspect, though, that they ascribe an equal if not greater measure of credit to their own restraint and tact, however.

[1] See, for example:





About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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