But seriously. I might not always deal with it as gracefully as think I do, but I have to/want to say that I love having my work edited. Yes, when someone else suggests or demands changes that you don’t love it can frustrating, awkward, confusing etc. But how exciting is it when an editor looks at your work, sees something you didn’t (good or bad, big or small) and finds ways that you both can make the piece much better than you could have yourself? I WANT people to make my work better. I know other people bring really important perspective to my work. Also, I really, really like editing things myself. It’s calming. And the more I think about other people’s writing, the more my writing improves, so that’s nice too.
This post is the result of just having read editor Deena Drewis’ In Defense of Editors over at The Millions. The essay, and the conversation in the comments, is really interesting. Of course it centers around Carver and Lish, and of course that relationship and its results have been rehashed a billion times. I’m not a big Carver fan – I don’t know if that helps or hurts in this situation. Lish made Carver’s work better. He did. We all know it. And that’s okay because that was Lish’s job. I understand why Carver had a such a difficult time, I am totally sympathetic. But it’s an extreme version of something all writers go through. Being edited is a given. Sometimes we freak out because we think an editor is “wrong,” but other times we’re just scared they are right – more right than we were. What if they know or understand our writing better than we do? What if they make it better than we ever could? That would mean…we actually need them, that we can’t take all the credit. When I think I’ve done a great edit of someone’s piece of course I want credit, but editing is a behind-the-scenes job, and if you want credit, do something else (or be insane, like Lish). But when an editor has made my work much, much better, I get…shy. I know how much credit they deserve, and I fear that takes away from what I did. I feel like I have to tell anyone who pays me a compliment that so-and-so did this, this and this to it, and so, you know, thanks but…
It is scary to have your work re-thought by an editor, especially one with a perspective as specific as Lish’s. But if you hate it that much, go elsewhere. Or give editors, editors who are true visonaries, the respect they deserve. They’re artists too. They might also be ego-maniacs, but since when is that an issue?
Drewis ends her piece with, “art exists to affect, and the greater the affect, the greater the art, regardless of who’s responsible for it.” I think she’s right.