Adding a Brush Stroke

In one of my other lives, I was a poet.

The publications that accepted my work, mostly with volunteer editors and small circulations, printed my poems as I had created them.

Then, an editor of a well-regarded, nationally-circulated magazine wrote a conditional acceptance: "If you change this line this way, we’ll publish it."

Vangoghsunflowers_2 Gnashing of teeth, tearing of hair, stomping of feet. How dare he challenge the perfection of my creation? Would he ask Van Gogh to add a brush stroke to Sunflowers? He wanted me to change my materpiece?!  He must take my idea, my creation, as is, in toto, or not have it at all!

I wish I could report that I started within minutes, even hours, to respond thoughtfully rather than to react emotionally. It took days.

I felt forced to choose between two opposites: the sanctity of my creation and the utilitarian requirements of bringing my creation to others.

I wanted my art, my poem, to be of value to others. By that definition of value, unpublished, my poem had no value.

My heart goes out to VT KnowledgeWorks entrepreneurs who make successful pitches to investors, then hear the caveat that they must accept this or that change to the idea or to the business plan.

I made some of the changes the editor requested and resubmitted the poem. The editor replied with a request for changes to my modifications.

I thought the editor and I were simply vying for power and control. I stewed over his knowing I needed him more than he needed me. He would have the ego-gratifying last say.

I’m not proud of my inability to, at the time, see the editor’s point of view.

As the poet/inventor/entrepreneur, I was in the invention-making business, but the editor/investor was in the money-making business. The editor needed my poem to be part of a portfolio (the pieces in the magazine) that, based on market research (subscribers and retail sales), would generate revenue. He couldn’t back me or my poem/invention if, in his view, the product I offered was sub-par or sub-optimal.

I made the changes.

The poem was published.

When I reread the poem today, I cannot remember which line was changed.


  1. An important concept very nicely put! I'm glad that you cannot remember the details of the change that was once so difficult to make.

    I still remember the pain of one such required change. I was doing early-stage geographic information system (GIS) research and development (more D than R) at Tech (now the CMI of the Corporate Research Center). A state agency contractor required that I revise and specify him as the sole decision maker on whether the contract had been completed. Deliverables were uncertain and vague and I felt that I might have been in bondage for a fixed price the rest of my life. We were never able to work out our differences and the project never authorized.

    After years of delay and work with other benefactors, the CRC now has superior GIS capabilities within the Conservation Management Institute and elsewhere.

    You never really know whether to change or stand pat.

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