I’ve done a lot of writing in my life. Much of it has been heavily edited, often by multiple collaborators. I’ve done a lot of editing as well. Editing is a process I enjoy, and think I’m quite good at. This blog, in contrast, is almost entirely unedited. Early on, I made the strategic/tactical decision to focus my attention on expression, rather than craft. From time to time, I edit what I post here more comprehensively, but most of what you read here is the equivalent of a first or, at most, second draft. Hence the preponderance of commas, parentheses, em dashes, and the like. Those are sort of writing placeholders for “clarify/improve later” that I tend to leave in my pieces here.
Recently, I had an experience with an editor the likes of which I’ve never experienced. Our every interaction – starting with his introduction to me – featured (his) alpha male posturing, one-upmanship, patronizing tone, and subtle and not-so-subtle put-downs.
I’m intrigued by this. It’s rare that I have interactions of this sort with people, particularly around writing, where the ultimate goal is so uniformly shared. But this editor seems to imagine editing is a battle. He tallied my comments to his first rough edit – most of which were great, but which got some things just plain wrong, probably because my original text hadn’t been that clear in the first place – and he chastised me. Not for the quality of my comments (in the end, all but two resulted in changes/improvements to his attempts to improve my flawed text), but for their NUMBER. Apparently, the number of comments I offered in response to his edit was “excessive.” He counted them. He told me. I think it was 18. The idea that one would limit the amount of effort one put in to making a text better – or that one would chafe at someone else’s doing that for no charge – is foreign to me. I think he understood me to be “defending” my version of what I wrote against his presumably “hostile” edits. This wasn’t what I was doing: I was working to clarify, to improve.
He characterized what I was doing as “fighting for” my version over his. The transcript doesn’t support this interpretation. In my comments, I tried to communicate my meaning more comprehensively. He tried to justify, explain, defend his edits, often on grammatical terms. (My grammar, you’ll have noticed, is perfect.) I said to him repeatedly that the only thing I was fighting for was a better piece, that the editing process was improving it, that I was grateful for that.
It’s clear that, in his eyes, his edits can’t be improved by greater access to my meaning, to my intent. And that in every back-and-forth between us about an edit, there was a winner and a loser.
This approach to writing, to editing, is just inimical to how I think.
And/but…. the editing was helpful. At the end of the day, the piece was better for his having edited it. And I find myself questioning my impulses, my reactions. Was I difficult? Was I fighting him? I don’t think so. Honestly.
And I’m left wondering about whether I want to write more for/with this editor. (It should be noted, whatever it was I thought I would get out of writing the piece, I didn’t get. Not in the way of pleasure, engagement, stimulation – nothing.)
So the question is – do I try again? Or do I let it rest?