On being edited

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?


  1. I’d say it’s a tough one… of course, editing is great and, more often than not, useful. However, an editor should always try to clarify things, so as to improve on YOUR text. That’s his role. And if your comments were trying to give him a clearer idea of what it was that you meant, so that in turn he could give you better edits, then who is he to think he is more right than you on how to write YOUR piece?
    At the end of the day, it’s your text, your final decision. Or it should be. If he doesn’t get that, then he’s not that good at his job. And therefore has absolutely no reason to behave as if he were superior. (not that there is ever any valid reason to treat anyone with disdain)
    This said, I’m a fervent proponent of second chances. So I’d say try again, maybe explaining what you didn’t like in the previous collaboration, and see how that one goes. If he’s still behaving like a dick : forget about him, he’s not worth your while or your work.

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