Years ago, I sold a story to a Prominent Publication. I liked my editor there, but in addition to her edits I received, through her, the editorial edicts of the Big Editor, who I never actually spoke to. The story changed a lot during this process, and by the end, most of the edits were coming not from my editor but from the B.E., and they were making less and less sense with every pass.
I asked my editor what the hell was going on. "It's B.E.," she told me. "He says you're...a good reviser."
In the end, I put my foot down when B.E. threatened to delete my favorite paragraph in the whole story. This small rebellion was accepted without complaint, and the story ran, much changed, but still mine. There were a few days there, though, when I believed there could be no worse fate than being a "good reviser," and a vowed not to be so pliable in the future.
I didn't keep my vow, though. I am pliable. I'm the kind of person who, after talking on the phone with you for half an hour, will adopt your accent and patterns of speech. I'm pretty good at parodies and other forms of literary mimesis, and I'm highly susceptible to editorial suggestions.
This novel I'm revising was a lot different when I first wrote it. I had a "vision" for it. And, you know, being an artist, I figured, what could be more important than my "vision"? Then people started hinting to me that my vision sucked. They were right--so I changed it. Is this, then, a lapse in integrity? Is it a violation of the purity of my work?
I don't think so. I think an art work is a flexible thing. I'm not one of those people who believe that if you changed a single word of Moby-Dick it would be ruined. Indeed, Moby-Dick could be drastically different, still be terrific, and still pretty much be Moby-Dick. It changes in your memory--your Moby-Dick is not the same as mine--and it might as well be changed on the page, too. I also think there are an infinite number of ways of achieiving even a worthwhile "vision,"and, in the end, your editor might even know better than you how to successfully achieve it. And even when your editor is way off the mark, his suggestions, misguided as they might be, are liable to be exposing problems you hadn't noticed. Your solution might be better than his, but without him, you wouldn't have known what problems to solve.
I suppose I'm making a case for the usefulness of editorial input, and the inherent malleability of artistic endeavor. When I sit down to begin a new story or novel, I have a perfect picture in my mind of what it will be like. And then I start writing, and the picture is shattered forever. A first draft, I've come to understand, is a primordial ooze--the raw material from which the real work must be coaxed. And the coaxing process is often exhausting. Why not accept help?
In my view, the work has a life of its own, or should. It isn't your slave--it's more like your pet. You can train it to do some things, but there are certain habits you'll never cure it of, and certain talents you'll never be able to bestow upon it. Or maybe it's some kind of magic spell--you might think you created it all by yourself, but it draws its energy from the world around it--forces flow into and out of it seemingly without your assistance. If the work is published, people will comment on "themes" or "motifs" that you don't remember putting in there--that, in fact, you didn't put in there. These things are the work's personality. Accept and enjoy them. And listen to your editor.