The Writer and the Editor

Image: Prospect Magazine

By Barnana H. Sarkar

When my poem was being dissected in front of my eyes and I was listening to the swishing slits striking across the lines, I realized that the writer-editor relationship is a little like vying. The writer and the editor compete against each other to achieve the same thing – give the reader a seamless experience without dwindling the creative process. And to do so, both are uniquely troubled. The writer either pens uncontrollably or refuses to cut down enormous lines. On the other hand, the editor fears that all the magic might be lost in the overflowing jargon of the creative mind. I think this is what was happening when Kiriti Sengupta, the chief editor of the Ethos Literary Journal, was instructing me to remove, replace, or rework on my poem, as I attended an online workshop on publishing (poetry), organized by the Oxford Bookstores and Hawakal Publishers, on August 29. It was a bilingual event – the Bengali section being done by acclaimed writer and publisher Bitan Chakraborty.

Out of a mid-monsoon whim, when despite the cold, you rush out to the roof to taste the rain – I submitted a poem, titled “My Dear Prime Minister” to the workshop. Sengupta’s first instruction to me was, “do away with the ‘my.’” He proposed, “Dear Prime Minister is enough.” It indeed was. And I didn’t disagree with him.

Next, he went on to cut and weave my poem and, before I could even realize, my verse sounded perfect. I didn’t know how I felt about that. His instruction showered upon me from the other side of our ZOOM call, and unable to hide my expression (Sengupta had asked me to switch on my camera, something I hate to do when on a call), I maintained a flat face. So, the first stanza of my poem went from looking like this –


My dear Prime Minister,
If I had to run a propaganda,
Understand this – I would not speak against you.
Oh no, I wouldn’t.
For you believe in one man, one God, one colour,
One gender, one idea, one faith.
You’ve sorted your concepts
With years of pressing ideologies, where to put up with your God
You banished all the other Gods.
To maintain your God’s home,
You didn’t mind eradicating the home of million others.

to something like this:


If I had to run propaganda,
I would not speak against you.
For, you believe in one man, one Rama,
one gender and one color.
You’ve sorted your concepts.
With years of pressing ideologies,
you banished all the other gods.
And to maintain your Rama’s home,
you didn’t mind eradicating the room of million others.

Sengupta did away with all the extra words, which made the poem gigantic. The initial word count was approx. 800, and after the slashing and burning, it boiled down to some 400 words. That’s the middle ground where I met him. Of course, I don’t agree with everything he said! I still feel that “My Dear Prime Minister” was more snarring than “Dear Prime Minister.” You know, how the self can inflict a pinch of sarcasm to anything! But there were also some glaring mistakes in my work, which I think only an editor will have the patience and passion for improving.

Writers are emotional creatures. We are sensitive even while attending a conference in an AC-clad room in BKC, Mumbai. We have to walk out of our workplace once in a while just to spend some alone time on that part of the roof where no one goes. We feel hurt when ideals are painted grey but are annoyed when everyone sees things in monochrome. We punctuate too much, we fill our minds with too many words, we are unable to organize the necessary from the needless, and we tend to make love to every story we ever write.

The editor puts a pause to those. Editors let the writers take a long breath and prepare for an endless argument. This is where the creative soul jostles the logical, and this is where some genuine work takes place.

Thomas Wentworth Higginson reduced the punctuations that came to be known as the signature style of Emily Dickinson. Ezra Pound slashed pages after pages of T.S.Eliot’s age-defining work, The Waste Land. Edward Bulwer-Lytton lightened up the mood towards the end of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. And, Max Brod and Franz Kafka were the friends we keep alive.

I stopped thinking about the writer-editor dichotomy the moment I put down my headphone and shut my laptop after the ZOOM call. I had never been to any such workshops before, nor did I know how editing would work. But now, when I am writing this article and rethinking all the arguments, the disagreements, the acceptance, and the gratefulness which scattered themselves throughout the session, I’m compelled to think – to whom does the piece of art belong? The one who creates it or the one who makes it presentable?

Barnana H. Sarkar
is a freelance reporter based out of Mumbai. She completed her PGDM from the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, Bangalore, where she specialized in rural development and art & culture. She likes to document people’s lives through pictures and short essays and wants to look for stories that are otherwise ignored by the mainstream media. Her hobbies include reading, watching movies, and attending Bharatanatyam classes.


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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Climate Change in Literature”, edited by Morve Roshan K., Southwest University, China and Niyi Akingbe, University of South Africa, Pretoria.

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