Friday, July 1, 2011

And We Think We've Got it Tough

by Vicki Doudera

Two hundred and thirty-five years ago, Thomas Jefferson awaited the vote for independence with trepidation -- not because he did not think the measure would pass -- but because he knew that with the vote would come another round of changes to the "original Rough draught" of his document declaring independence from England. Like any writer, Jefferson loathed editorial criticism, so the thirty-nine revisions requested by Congress on July 2, 1776, were not easy to swallow.

Jefferson had been appointed, along with Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingstone to the committee tasked with writing the document, and then promptly designated by the others as the worker bee. Writing in secret in Philadelphia, he labored in private for days creating a "composition draft." He then made a "fair" copy of the declaration and presented it to the others. Revised first by Adams, then by Franklin, and then by the full committee, forty-seven alterations (including the insertion of three additional paragraphs) were made to the document before the rest of Congress even saw the thing.

We who toil with the craft of writing know how hard it is to accept changes to our carefully crafted words. I think back to a professor in college who took me to task saying I had to learn "the fine art of paragraphing." At the time I was annoyed, but oddly enough her advice comes back to me, and I sense she had a point. Hopefully Jefferson, toiling away in that sweltering city, believed that at least some of his colleagues' changes improved his "draught."

What editorial comments have been hard for you to swallow? Did you declare them insignificant, or insightful?

Happy Independence Day to all.


Beth Groundwater said...

A very timely post, Vicki, related directly to the upcoming Fourth of July holiday!

The critiques that are hardest for me to swallow usually come from my critique group, who see my manuscripts in an unpolished form. They've caught the big problems for me, the ones where I wince and think, "Oh no, they are so right. I've got to fix this, but it won't be easy."

I'm very grateful to them for their comments, though, because by the time my agent and my editors at Midnight Ink review my manuscripts, they're polished enough that I haven't had to make major changes--yet!

Kathleen Ernst said...

I've always loved 1776, the old musical that shows Jefferson struggling with that! If you haven't seen it, it's a hoot.

The on time I get frustrated with editorial requests is when an editor seems to change his/her mind from draft to draft. Fortunately, that happens only rarely!

Darrell James said...

I've had agents and editors in the past that just didn't seem to "get it." I didn't trust their instincts as well as I trusted my own. (And that's what it seems to boil down to.)

My experience with Midnight editors has been excellent. Their insights have been exceptional and I've enjoyed working with them.

Cynthia Schuerr said...

Timely post, indeed! Happy 4th of July, everyone.

I fear editorial changes thinking they will somehow change my story or the feel of my story. However, I've learned they are usually for the best.:-)

Robin Allen said...

Like Beth, the hard ones are from my critique partner. She'll make a suggestion that will require a lot of work, and I'll resist, thinking, "she doesn't know what she's talking about." Then I'll think about it for a couple of days and realize she's right. Every time.

Deborah Sharp said...

Thanks for the fireworks pix .. it's raining here in s. fla., so we may not see the real thing! I love that ''... the art of paragraphing.'' I had to learn the opposite after so many years with USA Today, where nearly every sentence is its own paragraph. But being in newspapers, where editors wield chainsaws instead of gentle suggestions, has made me appreciate any editorial input I get in the genteel world of book publishing.