Editor or surgeon?

There are as many kinds of editors as there are writers. From the editor who gives you feedback and lets you decide how to address it all the way to the editor who rewrites your work like a plastic surgeon.

On the extreme end is the legendary short story writer Raymond Carver and his editor Gordon Lish. Lish made such deep changes to the stories, that they are almost like a joint work.

In one story, Raymond’s original ending:

For myself, I knew I wouldn’t forget the sight of that arm emerging out of the water. Like some kind of mysterious and terrible signal, it seemed to herald the misfortune that dogged our family in the coming years.

—is transformed into the dry, ironic and Hemingway-esque:

That arm coming up and going back down in the water, it was like so long to good times and hello to bad. Because it was nothing but that all the years after Dummy drowned himself in that dark water.

I had a very fine editor who pointed out numerous plot holes and areas for improvement. Our collaboration forced me to think through various pieces and sometimes make sweeping changes. I definitely appreciated and would work with her again, although a part of me wanted the plastic surgeon approach.

Which do you prefer?

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7 thoughts on “Editor or surgeon?

  1. I much prefer the feedback-you-decide approach to the rewrite-by-editor. The first leaves it up to me whether or how much to change. The second is like the editor takes over the work and makes it theirs. Even if it turns out better, it’s maddening. Maybe especially if it turns out better. What do you do with the next novel — phone the plastic surgeon editor and ask them to ghost write for you?

    Liked by 1 person

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