“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” — Stephen King
In my last blog, I argued that the editor’s role is to help the writer present his work in a concise, insightful manner. But how much is the editor responsible for the book or article’s content?
Former Alt Right darling Milo Yiannopoulos, whose main claim to fame is spouting controversial, homophobic, mysogynistic, racist comments, is suing Simon & Schuster publishing house for canceling the contract for his book, “Dangerous,” following comments that suggested he condoned pedophilia. As result, the publishing house entered Yiannopoulos’ original manuscript, complete with editor’s comments, into the court record.
First of all, the comments are hilarious. Anyone who has read or heard Yiannopoulos expected the book to be narcissistic, snarky and full of insults with little factual basis. The manuscript, and the editor’s comments, seem to indicate exactly what one would expect.
Several online sources have published excerpts, a few of which can found found here and here. I am pleased to find that professional editors occasionally use comments I myself have made (including the marvelous, “Ugh!”).
However, there is blowback from some who argue that the editor is attempting to make Yiannopoulos’ views palatable instead of condemning the essential message. In this instance, of course the editor — Mitchell Ivers, who is VP and editorial director of Threshold, S&S’s conservative publications wing — is trying make the message commercial. He is employed by the company to produce an end product that will appeal to the widest possible audience and generate revenue.
However reprehensible the message, it is not the editor’s responsibility to determine the message, only to ensure it is delivered in the clearest way possible (whether Simon & Schuster should have signed Yiannopoulos in the first place is a separate debate).
While it is easy to argue against Yiannopoulos’ stream of nonsense, the same editing principle applies to all stories.
This semester, a female student submitted a column to the University Press that espoused her view that there was nothing wrong with traditional gender roles, that she expected a man to pay for her date, and that when she marries, she will be quite comfortable cooking, cleaning and raising kids while he supported the household.
The editorial staff this semester was all women, feminists at that, and one could almost hear the spit-takes from the office as I read the column out loud while editing. The student in question is well liked by the staff but they were shocked, to say the least, at what they considered her old-fashioned values.
The editing process consisted of a lot of questions such as, “Are you sure you want to say this?” and “Is this really what you mean?” She was good-natured about the whole thing, saying that while she believed in equal pay for equal work, she was quite comfortable with her position. She even liked the eventual headline, which reflected the reaction of the office, “What the Feminism?”
Several of the staff approached me after wondering if we should run it, as it may reflect badly on the paper. First, I pointed out, the column was clearly labeled as the opinion of the writer, and second, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the writing. She had an opinion, she expressed it clearly, and she backed it up. What, I asked, if they wanted to propose the opposite view? Should we not run it because it might offend someone?
My job was not to agree with her position. My job was to help her express it well. She was happy with the result and it certainly created a spirited dialogue around the office.
She has graduated now. I hope she finds a good job. Then I hope she finds a good husband. More importantly, I hope she learned a bit about good editing along the way.
“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” — Colette