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Writing Quote: Getting the Edit

June 27, 2010

Today’s writing quote comes from one-time managing editor of Harper’s: Russell Lynes.  The story of writing goes, of course, that writers love their own work.  We’re simply enamored of it.  We have to be; how else do we summon the courage to expose it to the world, and even – horror of horrors – submit it to the whims of an editor to consider for publication.  It takes more than a thick skin; it takes a belief that what we’ve written is good and worthy of publication.

So, perhaps, it may come as no surprise that, unless we’re well acclimated to the idea, some writers may have a little difficulty hearing that what they’ve written… needs work.  Some writers might even grow a little hostile to the notion that their work is anything less than perfect already.  But here’s a quote to set you straight about that inclination, should you ever feel it welling up inside you:

No author dislikes to be edited as much as he dislikes not to be published. 

~Russell Lynes

Yes indeed.  If you’ve already gone through the trouble of submitting your work, and you now get feedback that the editor requires changes, consider the alternative.

In fact, no writer’s work is ever perfect.  Even the classics, great though they typically are, can be flawed.  Not a few of those, for instance, have been known to bore your average grammar school reader to the point of giving up on reading altogether.  But as writers, we must come to build a relationship of trust with our editors.  Because the editor’s job is to make sure that the best possible quality work makes it to the reading public.  The editor’s job is to make sure the reading public get something they want to read.

And if our work is good enough to catch the editor’s eye, the editor’s eye might indeed be good enough to know where it needs polish.  So, ask yourself… do you want only to write and not so much to be read… or do you want to be published?  It’s an important question, without an obvious answer, whatever you may think.  Some people gain most of the benefit out of the writing itself, so the question of editing will matter little to them.  For those who are really committed to publication, an acceptance of editorial revision is important.

Happy writing.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Lua permalink
    June 27, 2010 12:54 pm

    “So, ask yourself… do you want only to write and not so much to be read… or do you want to be published?”
    A very important question indeed Stephen! Personally, I would like to get published for I love to be read and connect with people through my words as much as I love to write. So getting published is not the reason to why I write but it is one of the many reasons…
    Great quote, as always 🙂 We need to be able to hear that our work ‘needs work’ !

    • June 27, 2010 4:15 pm

      Yeah, I think it’s a reasonable question because for some people the real need is primarily to write, and for these people, as long as they have a half dozen people that read and enjoy their work, that’s all that they need. And there’s nothing wrong with that. So it’s important to really understand what your goals and needs are to know what the parameters that will define success are.

      And, yes – an editor of some kind is kind of part the path to publication.

  2. June 28, 2010 2:15 pm

    A very good question. Why are you doing this? Some people write for pleasure, but I want to get published. I work with editors in my day job, so I just view it as part of the process. I usually have questions, and areas I want to have looked at more critically even before I start. I know parts of what I have written could be said better. A good editor is a magic worker!

    • June 28, 2010 2:24 pm

      Even just a peer posing a meaningful question about what you’ve written can set off a chain-reaction of creative inspiration that can greatly improve a story. I can only imagine (at this point) how much a professional can do…

      • June 28, 2010 3:10 pm

        Oh yes I know what you mean! Even the briefest hint’s and suggestions are like gold. I’ve been finding that a lot with the flash fiction we’ve been writing lately. Other eyes are a huge help.

      • June 28, 2010 3:54 pm


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