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8/4 Sherry Harris, A Time to Swill

8/11 Authors of The Fish That Got Away

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8/25 Alyssa Maxwell, Murder at Wakehurst

Guest Bloggers

8/21 Nancy Nau Sullivan

WWK Special Blogger

8/7 V. M. Burns


Friday, August 14, 2015



                                                          WORDS VERUS WRITING

The WWK blog when  E.B. Davis interviewed Ramona DeFelice Long and an editor sending me suggested revisions on one of my short stories got me thinking about the attitudes writers have about their words.  Editors I know have grumbled about writers who want editing but who don’t want their words altered in any way.  That apparent contradiction doesn’t sound strange to me.  I was a clinical psychologist.  In my private practice I often saw people who were unhappy about something in their lives. They paid fairly large sums of money to me evidently wanting me to tell them how to live a more meaningful life as long as it did not involve changing anything in the life they were unhappy with.

Over my years of writing, I have had very few editors who suggested changes in my work that I thought made the piece less readable.  In those few cases I made the changes, believing that the editor of an ongoing enterprise has more invested in that enterprise than I have in one piece of one issue.  I have never been asked to do something against the essence of what I wrote.

I am fine with editors finding awkward passages and suggesting changes.  I don’t feel any attachments to the individual words I’ve written.  Every word is the result of selection between possible words.  As soon as I happen upon a word that I think better conveys my idea, the earlier word gets replaced.  It is like I am the cold-blooded owner/coach a professional football team. No one is assured of a place on the team.  They can be certain that no job is certain.  Except mine.
Although I hold the copyright to a book or story, I don’t have any rights to any of the individual words. I will not get upset if I see other works that use the words.  Please feel free to use words I have used including ”the” and “and.”

At some point in my writing career I realized that my personhood is not defined by the words I use.  If a person loves or hates my work, it has nothing to do with my value or lack thereof as a human being.

So I have no problem with editors asking me to change a word or phrase.  I have no problem with words being deleted.  I don’t own the words. I only rent them for the occasion. 

How do you feel about being edited? 


Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I'm fine with the editing process, fact-checking, grammar, think of a better word. It's like a haircut, cutting to reveal the best from my shaggy mop.

Looking forward to reading your story in the Destination: Mystery! anthology. Margaret S. Hamilton

Unknown said...

As a newbie, if an editor wants to change my words I capitulate. For me, it generally isn't so much the 'meat' of the story, but the title. Nobody likes my titles, including my critique group partners. Since everyone agrees that my titles stink I have no option but to crawl into a small smelly corner and sulk.

Warren Bull said...

Thanks, Margaret.

Warren Bull said...

Madeline, It is not a capitulation. It is a success to be published. As for titles, I have one publisher who changes the title of everything of mine he publishes. I always chuckle when he sends edits. Come out of the corner. If the titles suggested work better with the stories, thank the person for their feedback. Have you asked why a new title is suggested? Not what is wrong with yours, but what is better about their suggestion? You might learn something.

Jim Jackson said...

I have no problems with editors (or critique groups) improving my storyline or my crafting of individual paragraphs or sentences. I do object, however, if they want to change my style, my voice. If they do not like the voice, either reject the piece (if you have that power) or recognize there are limitations to your charter. That said, I am always happy to have someone else provide critique – they always see something I have missed.

~ Jim

Kait said...

Quite right, Warren. I never have a problem with editors doing what they are supposed to do, edit. I also believe that if you have to explain whatever it is to your editor and why you want it in, the reader is going to need the same explanation so take whatever it is out before it takes your reader out of the story!

Linda Rodriguez said...

I've always loved editors, did that work and still do sometimes, and am married to a great editor. I've always taught my students that the editor is your friend, trying to keep you from public embarrassment. But one copy editor that freelanced for my publisher completely rewrote my first Skeet Bannion novel, which is written in a first-person colloquial narration. There were over a thousand edits, usually turning my active verbs into passive constructions and basically making the book read like an academic treatise. I called my agent and said I was sorry but I'd have to refuse these edits. She was totally in my corner. Couldn't call my editor because she was out of town. So I made a million STETs, leaving a few changes that were actually needed, and sent it back. Fortunately, my editor had my back on this, so I didn't have to make those awful changes, but I've known people in that situation who have had to do it or pull their book. Still, I've only had one experience like that out of many, many of being edited. Usually, editors are your friends.

Denise Rodgers said...

For the most part, I totally agree. I used to find edits (from others) painful earlier in my writing career. Now I really want constructive criticism; anything to help make my work as good as it can be. However... there once was an editor at a local newspaper for which I freelanced a monthly column years ago. She would make changes --- without consulting me!!! --- and these changes would go into print. One that sticks in my mind, and was the reason I resigned that position, was when she referred to a piece of fine jewelry as being "cheap" when I'd written "inexpensive." This is a world of difference in the fine jewelry world, and a change that I found offensive. It wasn't the first (or 10th) time she'd made these unwarranted changes. I missed writing the columns, but I didn't miss seeing them in print.

Gloria Alden said...

I totally agree with you, Warren and also with Jim. I have three critique partners who make very good suggestions that I almost always follow. I appreciate the editing of my blogs, too.
Where I agree with Jim and with Linda, is when someone wants to change my voice or the voice of my characters.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Warren, this is a great message! I love the. Way you make your points, succinctly and clearly. Don't be surprised if I borrow some of your words, particularly "the" and "and." Of course, I'll give you credit if I quote you directly!

Paula Gail Benson said...

P.S. Congratulations on your story in Destination: Mystery

Grace Topping said...

One of my co-workers and I used to do peer reviews for each other. She would say, "Make me look better." I always felt the same way. If someone offers a suggestion that makes what I wrote sound better, great. The problem comes when we get so many suggestions and it changes our work so much that we don't recognize it. Then I wouldn't feel that I had written to the book or piece.

KM Rockwood said...

I welcome most suggestions & edits. I have several people who read my work & I appreciate their perspective and when they point out things that would be stronger if I made changes. A good editor can improve a good story immensely.

However, sometimes an editor just doesn't seem to understand where my characters are coming from and questions the most intrinsic of their reactions & thoughts. I've also found people who don't believe the marginal world I sometimes write about exists, and want to see it sanitized into a more middle or upper class world. I don't like it when editors want my character's dialogue changed into expressions that are totally out of character or mood. I guess I go along with Jim and am not happy when I get an editor who wants to change my voice or style. I had one short book that was so changed by the editors that I no longer feel it's my work. And I've had stories I have had to rewrite so much that I didn't feel like they were the same story anymore. I tell myself that one of these days I will reach the point where I just withdraw the story rather than make changes that make me feel like I am compromising myself. But I haven't gotten there yet.