How to fight with an editor

As an editor I have had writers push back on edits. I’ve been amazed at times how angry and defensive some writers get, and how uninhibited they are in expressing it. It’s not that they can’t push back, it’s just that they could have better manners about it all.

As a writer I’ve done some pushing back myself. Recently, I had a long, brilliant, shimmering starry kind of a piece bounce back. It was gutted by the editor. The shimmer and the star dust had existed only in my mind.

All that work, gone.

My first feeling was one of dismay, followed by a need to curl up on the bed and sulk. I came close to just releasing the piece, surrendering it as is, to run as the editor’s version. I entertained the idea of asking my name to be taken off it completely. Pride kicked in. I thought of all the fairly high profile types I had interviewed for the piece. I didn’t want them to think that is how I wrote. Nor did I want the editor to think I was a baby. Or a princess. Or a cotton-headed ninny-muggin.

So, this is what I did:

1. I read my original piece again, alongside the editor’s version. I could see that some of what I thought was beauty in the original was actually bloated blather. Gosh, I hate that.

2. I consciously readjusted my thinking to focus on the reader and the piece and not my charming prose lost forever.

3. I emailed the editor and told him I was unhappy with the edit. I acknowledged that clearly I had not submitted what he wanted, and I wanted to work with him to produce a piece that we both could be happy with. I requested one day, 300 more words and the freedom to reintroduce some transitions I thought were necessary (and brilliant!!) along with an opening that better reflected my ability as a writer instead of the ick that was currently there (Important note: I did not say ‘ick’ to him). He said yes.

4. I put in that time and in the end I’m less happy than I was with my original, but more happy than I was with the edit. And my relationship with the editor was not damaged in the process.

A book I just finished helped me work my way through this encounter in a productive way. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. I highly recommend it.




4 thoughts on “How to fight with an editor”

  1. Great insights, both from a writing and editing point of view! My “favourite” story was when a first-time contributor (I most definitely won’t call him a writer!) whom I’ve never met, raked me over the coals for editing his work, ranting about why can’t people leave his work alone and that he had been writing and editing since before I was born! Yikes. Good thing I have that proverbial “thick skin” journalists are supposed to have (not)! On the other hand I love working with writers who take the time to respond like you did! 🙂

  2. If there was a sawdust trail handy, I would be duty-bound to crawl up it to the bench of repenting, given my ego-driven conduct with editors in the past, you being one of them! Notwithstanding, by divine alchemy bad behaviour, given time, seems to morph into an empathetic stance with those whose work requires ‘tailoring’ at my own hand, once waved in the breeze without consideration for which fingers were at play. “Crucial Conversations” has lived a lonely existence in the bowels of my library and I will take your lead, introducing its pages to some fall air. And I guess I’ll have to “forgive” you for having to wait almost a decade for your excellent post!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *