If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve had the experience of stumbling across something you’ve created and put away. Maybe you were letting it rest and got distracted. Maybe you were tidying your desk because your mother-in-law was coming for a visit and she’d never understand the chaos that surrounds creativity. Maybe it just became buried and forgotten in the ambient desktop clutter. Whatever the reason, weeks, months, even years later, you’re cleaning out a drawer or going through a Matterhorn of memorabilia with an eye to reducing the risk of an avalanche … and there it is.
You stop and read because that’s what writers do.
“I can’t believe I wrote that!” plunges down from your stunned brain and shoots out your mouth like it’s riding The Fifty Foot Waterslide of Death. The only reason you know this piece is yours is because that’s irrefutably your handwriting.
Whether your exclamation sings with pride or mutters with embarrassment, you’ve crossed a line…broken a barrier. For that brief moment you’ve become an editor. You’ve evaluated a piece of writing and found it awesome, or awful.
But how awesome? How awful? Can it be improved—rescued, even?
That’s what an editor does. We evaluate work and make suggestions for improvement, where applicable. If you’ve ever received editorial suggestions, you’ll note that publication is contingent upon making those changes.
You always have the choice to stick to your guns. You may be able to make a good argument as to why “your way” is better. If maintaining the original form is critical to the integrity of your story/poem, by all means, point it out. Editors make mistakes. But, in most cases, we know what we’re talking about. Is refusing to make a minor change worth having your work rejected?
Mark Twain advised, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story."
Good advice. But in practical terms, it’s not truth that sabotages most writing. It’s the author’s ego.
Fred Waiss is a former high school teacher and coach who writes poetry, articles, short stories, novellas, and novels as the muse attacks; as an author he considers himself a work in progress.