To Edit or Not to Edit, that is the question…

I am beginning to realize that it is alwaysa question.

I have since learned that I am not the only person experiencing this uncertainty. Every day I come into Autumn House, I overhear some manuscript-related conversation between the editors and their authors. Originally, I had thought editors had the final, decisive say in edits.

As it turns out, this is not the case. A writer’s relationship with their editor is not like a student-professor relationship. Whereas a professor is an authority a student must necessarily listen to in order to become a better writer (and to get a good grade), an author does not need to take advice from an editor.

I have noticed the awareness of this situation in the editor commentary provided on drafts. Rather than reorganizing the text themselves, editors write suggestions. I have learned that not even grammar and structure are objective. I have suggested many edits on poetry manuscripts, only to be told that these elements do not need to be changed because they are part of the writer’s unique style.  

It turns out that though editors can decide a writer’s fate, they cannot decide the fate of a manuscript. Sometimes as I edit, I have to stop and ask myself: Is this a part of the writer’s style? Am I unintentionally asserting my opinion over theirs? And then, will the author want to take my advice if I offer it?

I had this experience just recently with a second draft of a unique, absurdist-like manuscript. The writing is intriguing and dream-like, the content equal parts provocative and elusive. Because of the nature of the writing, I had to resist the urge to markup everything that seemed off-key. 

My academically-inclined mind kept thinking there are too many fragments! I had to stop and tell myself that the writer’s style was the writer’s style, and that the manuscript was chosen for that uniqueness. So I did what the other editors did: I wrote my comments as suggestions rather than commentary, often finishing the thought with a question mark.  

Undoubtedly, I have learned to be a better editor through my work at Duquesne. My handle on grammar and voice has increased exponentially since I started grad school. I have realized, however, that The Editor in the academic world has a lot more power than The Editor in the publishing world, at least were changes are concerned. In the end, creative editors cater to their writers. 

To edit or not to edit? Is this my opinion or a necessary change? These are the questions that fill my mind on a daily basis as I work at Autumn House. 

Thankfully, my experiences these past few weeks have not been limited to this existential drama. Just yesterday I did a photoshoot with the office pup, Rosie, for a #Worldpoetryday post. We stacked up every single Autumn House poetry collection and spent a good portion of time trying to get Rosie to pose for a photo to combine with the post. After 30+ photos, we decided on this one:

I don’t fancy myself a photographer, but I’m rather proud of this one. If there’s a lesson in all of this, it’s this: every office should have an office animal– for the photo ops! 

In general, I have been working more frequently with Autumn House’s social media accounts and learning to master the professional voice required for each. Outside of social media and editorial work, I have also been working on a review for Autumn House’s Coal Hill Review. 

My book review will feature The Martin Chronicles, a book written by Duquesne’s very own John Fried. You’ll get to read more of my opinions on it when the review comes out, but I highly recommend it! It’s such a charming, melancholy piece of work. 

— Chelsea Abdullah


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