The Importance Of Seeing Myself In My Writing, Or, Doing Battle With An Overzealous Editor

A few weeks ago I queried the editor of an environmental journal with the idea of writing up a review of “The Descendants.” I felt that an important and intriguing part of the film’s message was being ignored: its environmental imperative. I wanted to write an ecocritical review, something about how the film uses human drama to bring attention to the importance of conservation, as opposed to showcasing human drama merely for its own sake. The idea was well suited for the journal and its mission.

The editor said yes, and I was thrilled. It was the first thing I’d written since I had my surgery, and it felt fantastic to be writing again. Not only that, I was guaranteed to have it published. And finally, it was a journal I’d wanted to get published in for awhile – I thought it’d be a nice stepping stone for getting published in bigger nature journals.

I saw the movie again, took notes in the theatre, wrote up the piece the same afternoon, and sent it to the editor, who through correspondence was very nice to me. And then, something totally unexpected.

The editor sent the tiny little essay of 640 words back to me with “mostly minor changes.” I opened up the file with the disposition to accept whatever adjustments had been made without question. What I found was a more mangled, hideous, and distorted version of my writing than I would have ever been comfortable publishing, complete with an entire column of red commentary on the right side of the page with the most asininely workshoppy comments imaginable, such as “needs verb variety here” in reference to when I used a ‘to be’ verb in a place where only a ‘to be’ was appropriate.

I was shellshocked. Every little bit of my own personality had been smothered and suffocated. Every edit except two had made the writing worse, changed the meaning to something I didn’t mean at all, or was simply wrong. For instance, I’d referenced that “The Descendants” the movie was based off a novel by the same title, The Descendants. A novel must be italicized, a movie is in quotes, but the editor had changed it so both were in quotes, which is wrong.

What pissed me off the most was that this editor deleted my last line, which was a reference to something that Clooney’s character had said during the movie and I’d quoted in the essay. I thought it resonated. Now my ending was totally blah, and good endings are something I take pride in.

I’d worked with a different editor before who would routinely make a few corrections to my writing that mostly just made it a little worse, but because they were always so few it didn’t bother me. I was happy to concede, especially in order to get my work published. I wrote a bunch of articles for that editor’s site, and for free.

This time I was also working for free. I’m more than eager to begin receiving compensation for my writing – I consider it a milestone, and a sign of respect – but I’ve published a lot of work for free because I want to build up my credentials and get experience. Most of all, I just want people to be reading my writing. I worry all the time that if I don’t start refusing to write without compensation – even if only a token amount – then the fantasy that editors will eventually start offering to pay will remain exactly that.

This time, the editor hadn’t even shown me a semblance of respect by allowing my words to actually be my own. If you’re paying me, fine, fidget with my words, but if not, let me have my voice at least.

After a sanity restoring consultation with my girlfriend, whose opinion I immensely respect because she’s, first, very smart, and second, happens to be a (get ready for it) editor, I decided what I would do. I would accept only the changes where I could still see myself in my writing, which was less than half. I sent it back to the editor with those changes. The whole exchange felt so absurdly passive-aggressive that even if it had ended right there I would’ve been uncomfortable. But it didn’t end like that. The editor took my changes, threw a bunch of garbage back in, and then published it.

For some, maybe the essay looks perfectly decent. But when I can’t even see myself in my writing, when I’m writing for free and my words can’t even be my own, then I don’t see the point anymore.

The experience was a major reason why I decided to create my own blog. If I’m going to write for free, it’ll be for my own website, and I’ll be in control. I don’t want to be doing others the favor of providing free content and drawing visits to their website, even if only a trickle, and be disrespected in return.

But in the end, I’m happy how it all went down. My site looks better than theirs.


A Good Boy

A few months ago, my Dad and I were at the dinner table and talking about an old friend of mine I’ve known since 2nd grade. “He’s a good boy,” my Dad said.

Of course he is. He just got engaged to his high school sweetheart, a very nice girl who’s finishing law school this year, and he’s halfway through med school himself.

Later in the conversation, I asked my Dad what he thought of the short story I’d just had published. The title of the piece is “War Heroes” – the first and only short story I’ve placed anywhere. It’s about the way different generations of Cuban exiles interact with each other. It’s mostly autobiographical, since both my parents are Cuban. I’m immensely proud of “War Heroes,” not just because I think it’s good, but because I think I was able to crystalize a part of the Cuban exile experience: the agony and joy of living in America while still dreaming of Cuba. I even considered the story something of an homage to my parents and the exiles.

My Dad didn’t like it. He told me it had upset my Mother because it has a curse word. The word is “fucking,” which in their estimation is utterly unacceptable, even though I didn’t even use it as a verb – just an adjective.

My Dad lectured me for awhile about not using bad words in my writing anymore. He repeated himself several times. And meanwhile, I had another thought: I want to be a good person, but a bad boy.

A Real Travel Writer Is A Bigger Badass Than You

So far so good with the website. It’s a nice platform for my ideas and has been drawing in a humble but steady trickle of traffic. But I’m still working hard to get published in the major travel writing websites, and one of the things I’ve been checking out are the personal websites of some of their contributing writers. What I’ve found has been interesting.

In her “About Me” section, one travel writer boasts about illegally entering a country, being detained by the police, and getting kicked out of a famous landmark. Another boldly proclaims his mission to visit every country on the planet (possibly the most original idea I’ve ever heard), and is also immensely proud that he owns only a few things. A third is for some reason very eager to describe how readily he sunburns.

Is this impressive? If you try to get arrested, you can do it. It won’t be hard. What is difficult or cool about that? I am also still unclear on the literary merits of sunburning easily.

So I thought to myself: how can I leapfrog these people? There is of course only one answer. These travel writers are all such badasses, the only way is for me to out badass them. Hence, I have fashioned a new and improved mini-bio for myself, one that ranks me up there with the best of them. Enjoy:

Frank Izaguirre has been to more countries than any other travel writer ever, including all nine continents. He’s been arrested seven and a half times, abducted twice, auctioned off once, and there was this other time when he illegally crossed the border to go take a whiz real quick, which is also something definitely worth writing about. He has contracted five diseases while traveling, two of them venereal, and keeps all his worldly possessions in a fanny pack.

OK, looks good. Am I famous yet?