Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Primordial Hankering to be an Editor

'No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft.'
--H.G. Wells


At 1:58 PM, Anonymous curious said...

Am sure there are some fine stories behind that comment. . . .

Have you surmised threads of common cause behind this drive to alter a writer's written landscape? Do you find tendencies to be as unique as each editor's point of view, or might it be that many editors feel they just have to make their mark?

As the seasoned writer you are, how do you handle the editor's saber? With certain editors do you invest yourself less emotionally in your work, do you find your creative juices flow less? Are there some editors you take to task, or is that bad form? Is it common for editors to micromanage everything, or have you found a lot of respect within the writer's subculture?

Are there questions you typically ask BEFORE you start writing to help curb the bloodshed within the work you have brought to life?

Is the editor's pen easier to take after dealing with it for so many years, and since you have been an editor, how did that change you as a writer?

Care to edit my questions?

At 2:04 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Boy, are there some probing, knowing, questions here. I'm not sure I could have done a better job myself of asking the essential questions about this subject. But before I take a crack at them, and thus head the conversation in a particular direction, I'd love to give other a shot at their own answer first. I'll promise to sound off on all this soon. Thanks for the GREAT questions.

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Britta said...

Writing makes you a better editor and editing makes you a better writer, I have always believed, having done both. As an editor, I feel that I have probably made a mistake somewhere along the line if I don't get the copy I want: I've made a poor match between writer and assignment; I've given incomplete direction in terms of content, tone and audience; or I've given too many constraints in terms of suggestions and source recommendations and the writer was stifled. It's great if a writer asks me questions at early stages and generally helps their copy stay intact; then again, situations out of my control can also force an 11th hour edit--truncation of space, current events (anything from hurricanes hitting a travel story's destination to Jerry Garcia's untimely death), issues in obtaining art, etc. It's hard to do anything but apologize in those situations and try to prevent them next go around. I consider my best talent as an editor finding the right structure for a piece, putting the information and narration in the right order for the reader. When I've done that well, writers will thank me for helping their work improve while still retaining their voice and reporting. And for what it's worth, I really hate this quote because I think it's unfair. Does Mr. Wells not have a passion to alter his own work to improve it? Has Mr. Wells never read a really, really atrocious piece of writing and wanted at least to make it grammatically correct? It's easy in retrospect to say he is a great writer who must be honored, but I imagine he wrote some stuff to pay the rent that wasn't the work he wanted to have become his legacy.

At 3:55 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks, Britta. Lots of good food for thought in here. It sounds as if you've quite successfully made the switch from writer to editor.
And by the way, I'm guessing that the person who kicked this all off with the first question, who called themselves Curious, is someone with whom we've both worked.

At 10:22 PM, Anonymous curious said...

Most enlightening. I am grateful that you would take the time to answer my questions. Many people are very stingy with hard-won wisdom.

At 5:04 AM, Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

To hell with the drafts, I can hardly read a finished piece without wanting to edit it.

At 8:00 AM, Blogger Mariana Soffer said...

I like the setence, I think it is quite real, I do understand it in an intruitive way, and if I think about it terms such as power, control, humillation and revenge came to explain.

Bye MR E

At 8:33 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

It's somehow possible to agree with both of you, Jim and Mariana. It's an entirely human instinct that we all share, and yet, in the hands of the wrong person, an instinct often used for the wrong purposes.


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