Editors and The Dreaded Red Pen

On the whole, I have been lucky in my writing career. I’ve had good experiences with editors. We usually have the same goal in mind: making my writing sound the best it possibly can. It’s hard not to like someone whose whole goal improves your professionalism. For my part, I try to give the editors little to do in that regard. I take it as a point of pride to have as much of my own words published in their original state as possible.

The good editors I have worked with have been as talented as wizards. They wave those red pens (or the modern equivalent, the “track changes” setting) and poof – my writing is mine, but better. They know how to take sentences that I struggled with and are awkwardly worded and make them flow better. They can take something verbose or which takes up too much space and make it concise and more clear. Working with a good editor feels a bit like give-and-take. They make suggestions and tweaks, and I go back and make them – or explain why they’re missing the point. I resubmit my piece and that’s that.

Sometimes, though, I don’t get that back and forth collaboration. There have been times (and it happens much more frequently on websites than other media) when I submit something that I consider a great piece and it is accepted. Then, even though it was good enough to be accepted, it gets hacked up and worked to death without so much as a head’s up email to me. I check out the site or the publication on the release date they gave me and I barely recognize what I submitted.

If my name is not attached to the piece, it is a little easier to accept – I can walk away from it and pretend I had nothing to do with it. When my name is included, though, excessive changes can be hard to swallow. I take a lot of pride in my work. It can be hard to read things that have slaughtered to pieces or Frankensteined together into something that I would never have put my name on. I would much rather be given a second chance to make the corrections on my own and work in the suggestions in a way that sounds like my voice.

The worst editors are the ones that are not really editors. They act like writers, and they go through and change things just to change them. Maybe it is so they can say they did something. Maybe it makes them feel better about something in their own lives. Some of them probably just like wielding the power of that red pen.

I understand that editors are only doing their job, and they’re often working from special (or proprietary) guidelines that I don’t have. I also understand that the changes they make are never personal. I also know that turnaround times don’t always allow for writers to do second drafts, nor do editors always have the chance to even let writers know about changes before they have to publish things. That does not always take the sting out of their rewrites, though.

What’s your take on editors? Have you come across any overzealous ones, or any that have been amazing?