The Extent of Editorial Influence: An Argument for Appreciating Drafts After the Rough Draft


Kelemen explains that textual critics “have disagreed about the relative importance of rough drafts, some arguing that the earliest complete drafts best preserve the author’s intentions . . . while others argue that the authorial intention can encompass the revisions suggested or pressed by the author’s pre-publication readers,” such as editors.[1] While I do believe that early drafts are important foundations for a work and can reveal significant information about the author and his or her historical environment, I most agree with the latter set of critics who believe that authorial intent can encompass the views of contributors to the work between its rough-draft status and its publication. Editors’ and scribes’ contributions are often inherent to a work’s potential to meet authorial intent, inextricable from the author’s work, and necessary for maintaining texts’ relevance and accessibility while times and publication technologies change.  Although the transmission of texts between forms does carry the potential to introduce errors or to promote certain readings, perhaps editorial alterations can be appreciated as interesting parts of the text’s publication history rather than as “contamination.”

As Kelemen shows, many textual critics believe that “the further removed from the author’s copy, the less accuracy the text has. For this reason, textual critics are often very concerned with locating and evaluating the earliest versions of a text, particularly . . . manuscripts written by the author.”[2] However, if we conceive of textual “accuracy” in terms of whether or not a text displays its author’s intentions, it is often necessary for a text to move beyond the rough draft and gain the input of others before the author’s intent can best be realized. To illustrate this point, we can examine the drafting process for the Declaration of Independence. As Robert Ginsberg explores in the article, “Suppose that Jefferson’s Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence is a Work of Political Philosophy,” Thomas Jefferson’s rough draft of the declaration presents a profound set of philosophies, yet it required the input of others (including John Adams and Benjamin Franklin) in order to serve its intended purpose as a political document. Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence “for approval as a Congressional declaration,” yet the rough draft is often considered to be mainly philosophical rather than political.[3] According to Ginsberg, the rough draft is certainly important because its “composition and editing . . . expose the development of theory in process, the testing out of concepts [such as equality, human rights, revolution, sovereignty, just war, the rule of law, and international order], [and] the sketching in of connections, some of which, though [in the end] rejected by their author, are theoretically valuable.”[4] In Jefferson’s social and political context, he needed (and intended) to explore these concepts and articulate the United States’ stance on them in a way that the British government could respect and not dispute, that the world could support, and that the American colonists’ could understand and of which they could be proud. But in order for all of these audiences to best comprehend and appreciate the document, it had to be succinct but powerful. To make it so, the process of editing this document and moving toward the final draft involved “the search for the right phrase, the right word order, . . . the right cadence” to present “the right idea” in a coherent but not overly verbose form.[5] The input of various editors, far from detracting from its accuracy, caused the document to become the powerful political declaration that Jefferson intended it to be. This example suggests that collaborative editing is often necessary for a work to achieve the author’s intentions. Therefore, it is not necessarily true that the rough draft is the most meaningful and accurate manifestation of authorial intent.

In addition to the fact that editorial decisions can help authors meet their intentions for specific texts, an editor’s contributions are often so central to a work that it would be difficult or impossible to conceive of even a rough draft as being free of non-authorial influences. Strong author-editor relationships can make unclear the extent to which the editor has influenced the words the author writes (even at the rough-draft stage). For example, Ezra Pound’s influence as T. S. Eliot’s editor for The Waste Land extends beyond simple linguistic suggestions or corrections; Pound’s editorial relationship with Eliot seems to have influenced the structure and content of the poem that readers believe is sometimes inscrutable but nevertheless reveals Eliot’s intended meaning. In the essay, “The Waste Land: T. S. Eliot’s and Ezra Pound’s Collaboration on Hysteria,” Wayne Koestenbaum asserts that “Pound, like a psychoanalyst, appropriated and renovated” the work’s “hysterical discourse,” and his influence on the text was so profound because of his bond with the author, Eliot.[6] Writing his postwar text that would become an influential piece of modernist literature, Eliot was attempting to create a work that would deal with his own sense of disillusionment while also speaking to the nation’s collective sense of disillusionment following World War I. Pound’s editorial input was probably extremely valuable as Eliot strove to balance high culture and low culture in order to lend the nation a sense of unity while also maintaining the poem’s characteristically improvisational, uneven tone. Just as Jefferson consulted his peers to edit his drafts of the Declaration of Independence to make it better suited for its social and political intent, Eliot likely sought Pound’s help to make his poem more potent in terms of Eliot’s (and Eliot’s readers’) modernist sensibilities.

According to Koestenbaum, Pound’s and Eliot’s collaboration “involves a male relation toward hysterical speech: [they] can bond as men because they perceive the . . . text to be female. The manuscript, like Vivien, Eliot’s ‘mad’ wife, is a female hysteric” which Eliot “hand[s] over” to Pound for psychoanalysis, such that the manuscript, “Pound[,] and Eliot form a triangle” geared toward “collaborative renewal” of the hysterical text.[7] Koestenbaum asserts that “Pound’s work on the poem transformed it from a ‘sprawling chaos’ into something hard and powerfully disjunctive,” and Koestenbaum even refers to “Pound’s role as midwife of The Waste Land.”[8] Through these decidedly abstract descriptions of the relationship between the author (Eliot) and the editor (Pound), I want to argue that the editor’s role is often an inextricable element of the text created, such that attempting to find a copy of the text which is solely the author’s is problematic. As Kelemen indicates, textual criticism reveals “how unstable texts are . . . and how much every text is a collaborative product.”[9] Accordingly, “few if any works are the result of a single moment of inspiration and creative activity,” and a work cannot be thought to emerge “from the author’s pen exactly as we have [it].”[10] The notion that the least-edited versions of a text are the closest to the author’s meaning is complicated by works for which the distinctions between author and editor contributions are not clearly delineated.

The importance and helpfulness of the collaborative editing process (as we see in the example of Eliot and Pound) should continue to be sought out, rather than be allowed to dissipate in response to the growing popularity of self-publishing. Although opportunities to self-publish can lessen the time and effort it takes to publish a work, authors who self-publish in order to circumvent the process of collaborating with others on their work may be too subjective about the quality of their work. As the article “A Guide to Self-Publishing Your Book” cautions, “Every author is close to his or her writing—too close to find rough spots. Several sets of fresh eyes will find errors, inconsistencies, and bad writing. Be sure you give copies to objective readers . . . . Listen carefully to your readers’ comments, and consider each one carefully before incorporating it or rejecting it.”[11] The same article begins by suggesting that writers who self-publish should not “count on [writing] a best-seller,” because “most self-published books are interesting only to a limited audience.”[12] This latter piece of advice indicates that authors certainly might be willing to accept reduced chances of their work being popular, perhaps because these writers would rather be sure that their work and its meaning are made available to some readers instead of having to wait indefinitely for the endorsement of a publishing company. However, the former piece of advice about the importance of consulting other readers shows that no matter what the author’s intended scope of audience, collaborative production in the form of editing tends to produce higher-quality works.

When authors and editors consult about a text, editors’ contributions can become deeply imbricated in the author’s work and can also help the work achieve its intended purpose. But editor contributions are also important when the author of a text is no longer alive and cannot be consulted, because editors who help create new editions of texts strive to ensure that these works remain understandable, accurate, and accessible to readers over time. Although Kelemen suggests that editor’s transcriptions, emendations, and annotations may introduce a few errors, ultimately the editors can succeed in making the text more widely read and better received.[13] Just as scribes, “far from mindlessly reproducing what is before them, . . . sometimes work[ed] as editors or collaborators, deleting, supplementing, and emending the text, sometimes glossing or annotating along the way” to make a text less obscure and more accessible to an author’s contemporary readers, editors today create new editions of older texts so that the text can continue to benefit readers over time.[14] If a text is not edited periodically in order to update its spelling conventions and other linguistic elements that change over time, it will not continue to be widely read and therefore will become less widely influential.

In the same way, if a work is not transcribed into new, updated forms of publication, it will not be as accessible and will be largely forgotten over time. Kelemen describes, for example, that during the “first couple hundred years of printing,” compositors often had to make decisions about spacing, spelling, and sometimes even wording in order to fit the assigned text to the assigned pagination.[15] Although it could be argued that compositors sometimes altered the nuanced meaning of a text by having to strategically set the type, I think that these compositors still did an invaluable service to the reading public by helping ensure that older literature remained in circulation. In this regard, compositors serve a somewhat similar purpose as editors; they work to maintain the quality and accessibility of texts that might otherwise fade from reader’s appreciation and knowledge. Rather than creating “horizontal contamination” and causing the text to move further away from the ideal form (and from the author’s intent), careful and engaged editors, scribes, and compositors contribute to widespread appreciation of texts. Because of the importance of editors’ work in this regard, mistakes in editing should not necessarily be thought of as contaminating errors; instead, they should be conceived of (and studied) as unique elements of the text’s ongoing history.[16]

Scribes and editors should not be viewed as potential sources of error or as conduits by which the text moves further and further away from its intended meaning. Instead, they should be viewed as agents who can engage with authors and texts to sharpen and develop their intended meaning. Scholars should focus on uncovering and examining textual histories (including editing histories) as important elements of texts and their developing meanings, rather than desperately hunting for a solely authorial version of a text. Because we cannot always be sure of the extent to which other writers contributed to the creation of any text, we must accept the prevalence of editors’ influences and view these influences as having made positive impacts on the works’ production and on their continuing value for readers.


[1] Kelemen, 46.

[2] Ibid., 43.

[3] Ginsberg, 25.

[4] Ibid. 40.

[5] For example, in the Declaration of Independence, “the formulation of the bedrock commitment to equality” was edited several times to improve clarity and concision. The following is believed to have been the first rough copy of the equality statement: “(i) that all men are created equal & independant; (ii) that from that equal creation they derive [in] rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness . . .” After three known rounds of editing, this statement became “(i) that all Men are created equal, (ii) that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, (iii) that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness . . . .” As Ginsberg shows, “To make the phrase read ‘equal, inherent & inalienable rights’ might have been trying to say too much at once. The ‘inherent & inalienable’ are moved up front for emphasis, while equality already has been introduced in the preceding “truth” (ii). We have to bridge the gap in thought between the claim that all are created equal and the inference that their God-given inherent and inalienable rights are therefore equal. The connection is tacit.” Ibid., 30-31.

[6] Koestenbaum, 115.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 113, 118.

[9] Kelemen, 68.

[10] Ibid., 43, 68.

[11] “A Guide to Self-Publishing Your Book,” 60.

[12] Ibid.

[13] In fact, Kelemen asserts that from “the scribes’ and their customers’ perspectives, these emendations were improvements.” 59.

[14] Kelemen, 51.

Furthermore, it is often even worthwhile for editors to purposely simplify textual material in order to make it understandable to certain target audiences. As Arnaldo Candido Jr. et al. show in the study, “Supporting the Adaptation of Texts for Poor Literacy Readers: a Text Simplification Editor for Brazilian Portuguese,” “[c]lassic literature books . . . can be quite hard even for experienced readers,” let alone for readers with poor literacy levels. For poor-literacy readers to be able to understand a text and become better able to move forward in their studies, “simplified versions” can be extremely helpful. After students with poor literacy are able to comprehend a simplified edited version of a text, teachers can “gradually increase the text complexity,” hopefully eventually exposing the student to an early version of the text. Candido et. al assert that “[f]or poor literacy people . . . text simplification [i]s a first step towards social inclusion, facilitating and developing reading and writing skills for people to interact in society. The social impact of text simplification is undeniable.” 41.

[15] Kelemen, 54-56.

[16] Ibid., 59.


“A Guide to Self-Publishing Your Book.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 57, no. 4 (2007): 60-63,

Candido, Arnaldo Jr., Erick Maziero, Caroline Gasperin, Thiago A. S. Pardo, Lucia Specia, and Sandra M. Aluisio. “Supporting the Adaptation of Texts for Poor Literacy Readers: a Text Simplification Editor for Brazilian Portuguese.” NAACL HLT Workshop on Innovative Use of NLP for Building Educational Applications, (2009): 34-42, JSTOR.

Ginsberg, Robert. “Suppose that Jefferson’s Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence is a Work of Political Philosophy…” The Eighteenth Century 25, no. 1 (1984): 25-43,

Kelemen, Erick. Textual Editing and Criticism: An Introduction. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2009.

Koestenbaum, Waye. “The Waste Land: T. S. Eliot’s and Ezra Pound’s Collaboration on Hysteria Winner of the 1988 TCL Prize in Literary Criticism.” Twentieth Century Literatuure 34, no. 2 (1988): 113-39,



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  1. Pearl,
    Your blog produced a very balanced argument for appreciating the drafts that follow the rough draft. I especially appreciated your example of how the Declaration of Independence was created. It really illustrated your argument well. I have always deemed Thomas Jefferson to be a talented author, and yet other voices were key in editing the text to fit its purpose. Editing voices really help to enhance the author’s thoughts and ensure the text will have the intended effect on a broad readership. I was thinking about how technology can streamline the publishing process to one person: the author. Certainly, some authors do well when they self-publish their materials; however, publishing houses employ editors for a reason; over time, it has been proven that the work of many additional sets of eyes will improve a manuscript.
    Minnesota is home of a successful self-publisher: Amanda Hocking. Her stories, written for the young adult market, have now sold more than a million copies. Yet, according to “Q & A with Amanda” (, her advice to other self-publishers it to edit more. She says even if you currently edit, you probably need to edit more. I thought that was a striking piece of advice coming from a successful self-published writer. Hocking did not elaborate to say if she has others who edit her work, but I thought the advice expressed wisdom based on informed intelligence.


  2. At first it seems like you have chosen the unpopular opinion on rough drafts vs. final drafts, but you make a convincing argument for the collaborative process of writing. Sometimes final drafts were improved or expanded from the rough draft due to the helpful voices of friends or editors. In this way those working closest with the author may know the author’s intent better than him or her and be able to enhance it through suggestions on content or punctuation. I also like the mention of scribes as more than just mindless copiers and more of a collaborator in making the author’s work more accessible to readers. I think there is an issue with outside voices changing the author’s mind and perhaps his work like Dickens’s Great Expectations, but does it matter when the author is the one to scratch his words out and write new ones?

    I still like the idea of a new, uninfluenced text, but now I am leaning toward copies that have had more opportunity to go and bring out more of the author’s voice, because there is a line between “contamination” and “collaboration.” I also think of all the rough, rough drafts I have written and think that it might not necessarily be an author’s intention to show off his or her rough works. The rough drafts may be more part of the process or writing out ideas and not reflect the ideas that the writer wants to represent to the reader. These are brought out later by either the author himself/herself or with the help of editors/collaborators.


  3. Mark Van Dusseldorp May 4, 2015 — 11:20 pm

    I completely agree, though I often think of my favorite writers as the true and only sources of great texts. It’s helpful to acknowledge, however, that readers make these texts in some way too, or at least those readers who are allowed access. Like most things in this world, books are always changing, even if the actual text remains the same through centuries. A book will take on attitudes and values of the time it is read in, and in that way, it’s always being edited even in published form. I still like the idea, however, of returning to the earliest state of a text, tracing it all the way back to its conception, not to locate the true text, but to find the imperfect beginnings and false starts, and it is even more remarkable sometimes to find how drastically a text has been changed since the beginning, and shaped into something very different yet still brilliant.


  4. Pearl, I think your argument is compelling. I especially like your point that “editors’ and scribes’ contributions are often inherent to a work’s potential to meet authorial intent.” It seems that the different authors that we have been exposed to throughout this semester have been resoundingly grateful for the editors that have helped them make their work better, and I think this is a another case for considering texts to have, as you put it, “developing meanings” rather than a locus of intent buried within the author’s original draft.

    I think the relationship that most students of English have with original drafts is paradoxical. On one hand, we often find ourselves searching for the “truest” draft of our favorite texts – the original one which is untouched, and in some strange way, most pure. However, if someone were to ask to see the rough draft of one of our own pieces, we would be embarrassed! We would exclaim, “No, please just look at my latest draft – it is such an improvement!” Considering the different voices that have spoken into our processes and the different editorial hands which have left their fingerprints – for the better – on our work, we would decry those that push aside the final draft in search of our rough drafts. In the same way, I think we ought to place value in a text’s final edition because we ourselves recognize the value of the editorial process.


  5. Jenny Bunkers May 14, 2015 — 8:27 pm

    HI Pearl! I really enjoy this presentation paper and it is especially interesting because my paper argued the opposite opinion. I must say that I am still vacillating between what really constitutes as the author’s intent. The amount of contributions to the work can be boundless, yet this is the process in which we subscribe to. All published works have been edited at some point and some more heavily than not. This applies to the peer review and especially the open peer review response and how much the reviews affect the original work. I can easily see that because there is no way of avoiding someone, perhaps even the author with a future edition, changing intent no matter how small the changes are. It is impossible to really stay “rough” despite my argument for that view exactly! One issue I do have an issue with is the idea that there becomes no real “author” because of the potential contributions from an editor. The roles are different but after taking this class I see how much their roles can intersect. Heavy editing can lead to quite another piece of scholarly work we have seen with examples and our own attempts at it. It may not change the fundamental idea(s) but tone and style, for example, can easily change and that takes away from an original work.


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