I remember how happy I had felt when I plunked down my rucksack and announced I was a visiting writer to the lady at the check-in counter at a resort in Playa del Carmen. I was on my first assignment for my first feature travel story, ever. The story would eventually be a hotel review for resort in Mexico, which, if I remember correctly, was a pretty nice place. The grounds offered traditional palapas, umbrella drinks, clean beaches and narrow pathways that cut through a nearby rain forest to keep the local ecology thriving and allow visitors to marvel at the hordes of stray cats, tropical birds, and other small critters that called the rain forest their home. However, there was one animal that will forever stick out in my mind called an agouti, which for the first three days of my trip was simply referred to as that bizarre “hamster/pig.”
I was enamored by the hamster/pig and promised myself I would somehow include the agouti in my 1200-word article, which took me far too long to write. I eventually wrote, “The agouti is proof that a hamster and a pig made love.” It was fair description. It was also a line that I fell in love with after writing it. I thought I was brilliant, maybe even Pulitzer worthy. After I submitted the article, my editor wrote a one-line response, “funny line. It’s gone.”
Two months later, the article was published and very little was changed. It was nice to see me name in print. However, my Pulitzer line now read, “The agouti looks like a cross between a hamster and a pig.” Seeing my first story was great but I couldn’t get the sting out of having my once brilliant line morphed into something so un-romantic. Romance would have used an image of a pig making love to a hamster. Well, at least it was in the mind of my fragile ego. The worst thing happened. I took the edit personally.
Since that time, I have written a ton of other articles for the same editor (glad I never complained). I have also become an editor. Sometimes, I have deleted, rearranged, changed, altered and edited other writers’ brilliant lines. I never intend to upset a writer.
However, I occasionally have a writer who wants to know how I could change their best lines. As a writer, I identify. As an editor, I am never emotionally attached to a great line or aside. The whole story, and every word in it, is always a work in progress and fair game to be changed to improve the whole. It is never personal. I have learned that writers do their best to offer something interesting, funny, unique, insightful, and/or informative, but editors have to think about the larger picture of style, tone, readership, sensibility and sometimes keyword optimization. Difficult decisions need to be made. I have learned that getting edited is the rule. I have also learned that the image of a pig making love to a hamster, no matter how loving, may not be for everyone.