by Deren Hansen
Writer Unboxed, address the question of whether revisions requested by agents and editors make the books more or less yours.
She points out the difference between the two senses of the world,
"compromise:" 1) to work together, and 2) to weaken the integrity of,
and argues that working through revisions with agents and editors is all
about compromise in the first sense and should never be about
compromise in the second. It's a beautiful observation, marred only by
my jealousy for not thinking of it first.
important difference between trying to please people and finding ways to
say what you're trying to say so that it's accessible to more people.
Some people think that as the source of expression,
the artist is the sole guardian of the vision and any request for
changes from another party will compromise that vision. Those people
forget that writing for readers is a classic example of the old cliché
about taking two to tango: you don't have "writing" unless the reader
gets something they value out of your words.
notion of author as the source of pure expression is more deeply flawed.
The words on the page are a lossy encoding of the author's ideas, so
there's no such thing as a pure expression. Put in more contemporary
terms, a writer is actually coding software that will run on
non-deterministic wetware (i.e., brains). Real software developers have
no qualms about debugging their code until it runs correctly. Why should
authors complain when revision is essentially the same process.
the key qualifier in the statement about debugging? Software developers
strive to produce code that runs correctly. Revisions that clear away
confusion and help the reader to better understand and appreciate the
story are equivalent to debugging the code.
where you, the author, need editorial help: because you know what you
meant when you wrote it, it's hard to see where others might
misinterpret what you wrote. That's why revisions are all about
compromise, in the first sense. You want to work together to make it
Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at dunlithhill.com.