I’ve recently returned from attending the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. A topic that arose frequently was that of writers’ ego.
It usually came up in discussions about the sublimation of ego to editing. It is a necessary evil, true enough. At least to a degree.
But a writer must have ego. When a writer sets words on paper it is with the belief that those words are worth writing down. And that the thought is worth preserving. And that the way that the thought is articulated is as good if not better than other writers could do.
Elmore Leonard put it this way in an interview in Men’s Journal: “I had a belief in myself and it came from reading. I was always reading stories in magazines, and I just thought my stories were better than most of them.”
There is danger in automatically accepting criticism from those who edit your work. The author who capitulates his/her work to all suggestions and critiques must disappear as a unique and individual voice. There is a line in the sand that can never be crossed.
But where is that line? There is only one person who can answer that question – you, the author. When you consider suggestions for revisions listen to your inner self. Is some part of you resistant to the change? Is your subconscious nagging you about it? Perhaps you should listen.
I have received many amazing editing suggestions. When applied, they have instantly taken my manuscript to another level. I have had others that seem just as worthy, even righteous, but they were not right for my work. Some I accepted for the wrong reason. I accepted them because I admired the critic, not because the change worked. Those eventually hit the cutting room floor. I once changed the entire opening to a novel on a critics advice only to go back after publication to alter it back. Where was my ego then?
Remember this when working with editors, whether amateur or professional: the work is yours, you are the author, you have the vision. Accept suggestions for revision carefully. Remember, many of the great authors broke the rules because their work demanded it. And because they did, the rules themselves changed.