Editors: what makes them the way they are

By Sreelata Menon
[This story first appeared on firstwriter.com and is reprinted here with permission from the author.]

Are your articles being subjected to unnecessary editorial changes?

Are you beginning to think your writing’s at fault?

Have you felt like committing hara-kiri? Giving it all up? Packing it all in?

Don’t! Hang on! It’s not what you think!

Read on and discover why editors are the way they are, what could possibly make them the way they are and feel better…

A promising theory
I have a theory! It’s a theory no self-righteous editor is going to accept. But it’s one I believe that all writers will lovingly embrace! And that is that most editors are a jealous lot! A lazy bunch! And how have I reached these preposterous conclusions? If you are a writer, you will undoubtedly agree; and if you are an editor, you might well want to dump me and the articles I might send you the next time into the ubiquitous bin that sits next to you.

They know no better
My conclusions are, I’d like to plead, based on experience. Much rueful experience of having my masterpieces, such as they are, mutilated beyond repair by people who should have known better but who didn’t. There is much truth in the adage that “those can (will) ‘do’, while those who cannot, ‘don’t’”. Apply it to writers and editors and what do you have? Well, those who “can” will write and those who “can’t” will find great happiness in chopping, changing, cutting, rewriting something they would have liked to write but could not have written in a hundred years! Get my point

Itchy fingers
Did I really say it “like” that; could I have actually written it “that” way, you wonder for a disappointing moment. But thrilled at seeing your articles in print you couldn’t care less and carry on blithely. But when it happens again and again, euphoria gives way to doubt, doubt to anger and anger to dejection. And when they do appear sometimes without any cuts, changes or rewrites you actually feel blessed! You begin to dread sending them in. You start to lose confidence, even wonder if your writing is at fault. No it’s not. The very fact they are publishing it says it’s not. It’s only because God has itchy fingers!

The need to play God
To be an editor is to wield great power: the power to reduce hapless-talent to a diffident mess or make an absolute no-talent into a Booker Prize winner; the power to reject is packed into their restless five-finger fists. And if this doesn’t give them an air of importance, I am Salman Rushdie!

The urge to meddle
While writers take great joy in producing stuff, that perhaps, nobody understands, editors take immense pride in cutting both the writer and that stuff down to size, so that somebody can understand. Or so they believe. The pleasure, I fancy they must justifiably feel when they see what must be to them an easily expendable ocean of words, is probably what makes them tick. To trim, tidy and smarten up for their mandatory “word limit” or whatever, a readily available creative “mess” – with nary a thought to the amount of effort that must have gone into it! It must give them a euphoric rush; a glee much beyond mere words!

Writers are suckers
Writers only write. They write because they just have to. It is a compulsion from within that defies all explanation. The need to weave words into a tapestry that begs to be shared with the world. And this need to be read, to share transcribed thoughts such as they are with others makes them vulnerable. But it also makes for powerful motivation.

So these no-good word chasers keep awake half the night and more, to produce what they believe are gems and serve them up for our esteemed know-it-alls to decide whether those gems are what they would want to bite, chew and spit out on their print platters. And if they don’t like the taste or the look of it, these pearls don’t even get to their mouths, sorry first base! And why do you think they take great delight in running their editorial saliva all over it? Because…

They can’t write
The genius of realisation tells me that not all editors are good writers. Nor are they the last words, in anything! But they pretend to be because they need to be and with much time and practice they are able to be, by rejecting ,changing and deleting their way through to make their magazines sell and writers quail or how else would they earn their fat paychecks? Many a time subtle nuances and gentle puns are completely lost due to an editor’s lack of creative understanding or an inflexible mandatory word limit. And there are no bad writers, I was assured. Only bad editors!

The question arises – do we need editors at all?

Do we need them at all?
Now don’t get me wrong I am all for editors. And we do need them, of course we do! How else would the media run? Who else would collect, co-ordinate, print and publish? Who else will tell you whether your 1,000 words is rubbish, rightly or wrongly? Who else has that unique ability to send your confidence soaring or nose diving? Who else will do all the dirty work you can’t? Revile them, hate them, but we can’t do without them. And you do need someone to point out your inadvertent mistakes before the world laughs at you. And I am not talking about spelling, grammar or mere punctuation. But I do wish, oh how I wish, they would limit it to just that or at the least acknowledge the fact even, grudgingly, that the poor goons who wrote the stuff are the best judges of what they churn out.

Ill mannered!
They are at best an unresponsive tribe who while calling the shots have forgotten the basic rules of etiquette their parents must surely have taught them. Do you suppose they grew up without parents? That’s it then! The reason why they don’t acknowledge, they don’t reply, they don’t even at times bother to give you credit for what you’ve delivered (i.e. till you’ve “arrived”). Or is it simply a case of the one who plays the pipe calling the tune?

Without writers would there be editors?

And rare is the editor who engages in meaningful dialogue with the lowly writer. In fact, shouldn’t it have been the other way round? What use his editorial paws if there were no articles to play around with? Without writers would there be editors? Alas a writer is only as good as his last article, hence perhaps this impassive editorial “hard to get” act.

If they could, wouldn’t they?
And so my question is this: why would the lofty editors rely on talent they always have to fix? If they could, wouldn’t they surely have done it all themselves? Written it themselves? Emphasise, “If they could”. Answer. Simple: They can’t! At least not all of them can. And how many good writers do you know who would willingly give up writing to take up editing? So like most armchair critics, who always believe they know best, instead of leaving well alone, they set out to reject or mangle what they cannot produce on their own. So then, I ask you, what great noble emotion do you think makes them do this? I rest my case!

Feel Better? Now do carry on writing and submitting!

(18 March 2018)


Sreelata Menon is a freelance writer who writes on anything and everything!


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