The Difficult Art of Baby Killing 5 Comments

Recently I’ve been working with a few brilliant emerging writers, and learning more about the wonderful skill that is editing. The most interesting thing I’ve observed is the way writers take on board suggestions – myself included. I’ve narrowed suggestion-reception down to three types (please note, the following are somewhat generalised):

1. The contemplative writer, who collaborates with your ideas and turns the editorial process into a dialogue.

2. The sycophant writer, who takes on board all editorial suggestions and massacres their own work for the sake of kowtowing. (This type is generally very excited, and extremely well-meaning.)

3. The <em>vive le resistance</em> writer, whose editorial process involves informing the editor that they worked hard at this piece, barricading the provided feedback and reprising ‘<em>Do You Hear The People Sing</em>’.

Whilst I have no problem with a writer rejecting suggestions, Type 1 writers tend to make alternative suggestions from which the editor can work, and Type 3 writers tend to stick to their guns, and stick it to the editor. So I wonder how you view the editorial process. As a writer or editor, what is your approach to, and understanding of, the difficult art of killing your (or someone else’s) babies?

  • Bel

    Call me a sentimental ostrich, but I’d like to think there’s no killing involved! It should always be the intention of the editor to nurture the baby – challenge it to walk perhaps, but not push it off a cliff. I’m now finding this conversation disturbing.

  • Johannes Jakob

    But sometimes you have to cut off a malignant growth/amputate a limb to make sure the child sees the light of day and is given the best chance of succeeding in life.

    Also, when writing early drafts, it is no good to be immovably pro-life.

  • Samwise the Brave

    I’m with Jojo. A baby is like a rose bush – prune it back harshly, prune it of its ugly/dead/slightly askew bits and cross your fingers that it will be a better baby because of your cruel-to-be-kindness.

    You say ’emerging writers’…if any emerging writer (and let’s not start a debate on what ’emerging’ means – not here, anyway) thinks he/she can tantrum over a piece they hope will be published, methinks they won’t see too much of their work in print. Unless they self-publish it, but then they’ll probably do no editing and the writing-and-publishing industry will guffaw into their short macchiatos.

    My approach during the editing process is to say ‘yes’ to everything the editor suggests and then grumble at the launch of that particular publication. Not really, but generally an editor is suggesting something that will make your piece better. If not, if you really vehemently believe their suggested change/s will devalue the piece, as long as you explain why then I’ve never had an editor who’s vetoed me.

    (hey Jojo, here’s the number of my hairdresser: 1800-sit-on-a-stick-and-rotate)

  • ShamWow the Absorbent

    and here’s a coincidence… i just stumbled across this in an online forum:

    Giles Coren’s letter to The Times sub-editors

    It’s an irate and very humourous letter from The Times’ restaurant critic Giles Coren to his sub-editors. I wonder if Rosie has ever come across a writer like Coren?

  • Rosie

    Haha, hilarious. I have to admit that I like Coren, and his email rocks – he justified exactly why he liked things the way they were. Sam, re: ’emerging’ writers, (which we define as ‘having previously been published’, but I should have mentioned that one of the authors are not, in fact emerging) I tend to find myself thinking that those who refuse to have their work touched, and don’t take on any editorial comments/strictly defend their work are generally the people who haven’t worked with editors as often. I was very frustrated with one of the writers I’m working with because she had taken Writer 3 approach, until I considered my approach to editing in high school. I hated it. I felt the teachers knew nothing about what I was trying to convey. It took me up until year 12 to grow up, and learn that it’s okay for someone not to like a sentence/entire story I’ve written, so long as a friendly dialogue can occur. Now, I look at the editorial process as something that’s ridiculously exciting, because there’s a feeling of potential and endless possibility there. If anything, editing a piece as either writer or counterpart is about pushing one another, exercising the mind and the imagination, and sharing a love of words and expression – it’s all about growing babies (Re: blog title, you know, ‘killing babies’, figure of speech…pop-tart blog). I considered that I could do one of two things in my reply to this writer: Firstly, write a lengthly email explaining how to enjoy the editorial process, which I don’t doubt she would have found patronising. Secondly, just say that she can keep the piece the way it is, but if she’d like to discuss anything about it, then by all means contact me. I figured she’ll learn to embrace editing eventually…
    I live in a sort-of Utopia here.

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