Editor’s note: The column Mr. Deane refers to in this piece was reduced slightly in length in order to fit in the print edition. Columns and letters submitted by our readers are sometimes trimmed in order to fit into the available space. Edits made on deadline, as was the case with Mr. Deane’s column, are not submitted to the author for approval, due to time constrictions.
The role of the writer, particularly in an OpEd piece, is to explore an issue and present a point of view, to make readers understand, identify, laugh, cry, get angry, take action … It’s deeply personal, though it must translate to the general readership.
The role of an editor is to select material, allot space, write headlines, protect against libel, check for grammar and spelling errors and, as necessary, improve writing. It’s not personal, though editors need to be sensitive to their writers.
Sure, editors may save writers from themselves at times, but at other times these roles may be in conflict.
Castle Freeman Jr., writes in “Spring Snow, The Seasons of New England,” from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, “Every author who is lucky enough to secure a publisher for his work finds himself in an enterprise that is necessarily a collaboration, something authors discover with degrees of horror, insult, resignation, relief, and gratitude.”
And so it was that I was startled and disappointed to discover that the last paragraph of my last As I See It column (Nov. 18) on texting and driving had been lopped off, presumably for space reasons.
As printed, it ended, “Multi-tasking doesn’t always mean more. It often means less — at the expense of others.”
That ending makes sense. It makes the point in a philosophical way. But the issue was more personal to me. The deleted ending, “To be blunt, my right to life is more important than your right to amusement. This makes me angry,” expressed how the philosophical impacted me personally. It was also a play on “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. The impact was gone with the deletion of that final sentence.
As fellow As I See It columnist Jack Garvey commented in an ensuing email discussion, “Oh, that hurts! That is a galvanizing line that would have turned the ‘multi-tasking’ line into a more powerful (and resonant) one-two punch.”
This was most likely a quick decision made at deadline to fit the column into the allotted space, but how would the reader know that? A reader assumes that the writer presented the column as published. Not so, as in this case.
Does this really matter? Probably not to the reader. Definitely so to the writer. Writing is our creation, our expression of selves, hence the As I See It name of the column. To make changes is to make the work to some extent not ours. Not that we’re all geniuses, but, as an extreme example, would Leonardo da Vinci object if an art editor touched up his Mona Lisa? Or cropped it to fit allotted space on the wall? True, these are just little guest columns in a local newspaper, but the motivation of the artist/writer remains the same — self-expression.
Similarly, the piece was also pruned in the middle. The sentence, “I can’t count the number of times in recent years that an oncoming distracted driver, either looking down at a text or smiling and yakking on the cell phone, has had to jerk to attention and veer back into the travel lane to avoid me,” did indeed present the scenario. But again, how do I feel about that?
“That’s why I always keep an eye on each oncoming driver, ready to jump over the guardrail if necessary. So far that hasn’t been necessary, but it’s a possibility.”
That sentence was cut, taking the teeth out of the observation. That’s how alert I have to be on this stage of my walk on the highway, detracting from the meditation function of my fitness program to guarantee my survival against oncoming missiles.
So what to do about this? Submit no further pieces? Follow up with the regular OpEd editor, who had happened to be away at the time?
I have been publishing pieces for more than 40 years. I feel that I have earned my spurs, so to speak, to have my writing left alone. Editors, in turn, feel that dealing with copy is within their purview. Both viewpoints are legitimate. The key is in finding a match.
This one is being put to the test.
Stuart Deane lives in Newburyport.