The relationship between a writer and the thoughts they prise onto the page can be a complex one, especially when those words first fly the nest and head for fresh eyes.
Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have. I think your proofreader is kindly attempting to steady me on my feet, but much as I appreciate the solicitude, I am really able to steer a fairly clear course, provided I get both sidewalks and the street between.
Raymond Chandler | Letter to the editor of The Atlantic Monthly, Edward Weeks, 18 Jan 1947 | Letters of Note (Vol. 1)
USA publishers have a habit of what they call “editing in accordance with American procedure”. This means they rearrange one’s paragraphs, alter one’s punctuation, and generally bedevil the text. I will not be edited. They can spell colour, color if they will die otherwise; but no further. In other respects I will be tractable as a lamb. I promise this with a clear conscience, having been knocked head over heels by a vast pet lamb that came bounding down a Northumberland hillside at me: two tons of affectionate curiosity.
Sylvia Townsend Warner | Letter to Carol Walton, 1966 | Letters Of Sylvia Townsend Warner
The copy-edited text of A Turn in the South came yesterday; it is such an appalling piece of work that I feel I have to write about it.
Every writer has his own voice. (Every serious or dedicated writer.) This is achieved by the way he punctuates; the rhythm of his phrases; the way the writing reflects the processes of the writer’s thought: all the nervousness, all the links, all the curious associations. An assiduous copy-editor can undo this very quickly, can make A write like B and Ms C.
And what a waste of spirit it is for the writer, who is in effect re-doing bits of his manuscript all the time instead of giving it a truly creative, revising read. Consider how it has made me sit down this morning, not to my work, but to write this enraged letter.
V. S. Naipaul | Letter to his editor, Sonny Mehta, 10 May 1988 | Letters of Note (Vol.2)
Whoever did the editing on the whole book was very intelligent and most of the changes of punctuation I agree with. Those I don’t I have changed to their original form. My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements.
Ernest Hemingway | Letter to his publisher, Horace Liveright, 22 May 1925 | Selected Letters of Ernest Hemingway
The punctuation I employed in the book is not accidental and does not result from an ignorance of the rules of grammar. You will agree that the elementary principles of punctuation are taught in every school. I am fully aware of the reasons that led me to choose this punctuation and insist that it be respected.
Clarice Lispector | Letter to her French publisher, Pierre de Lescure, 6 May 1954 | Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector
I want to speak particularly of your theory of clean manuscripts, and spelling as correct as a collegiate stenographer, and every nasty little comma in its place and preening of itself. “Manners,” you say it is, and knowing the “trade” and the “Printed Word.” But I have no interest in the printed word. I would continue to write if there were no writing and no print. I put my words down for a matter of memory. They are more made to be spoken than to be read. I have the instincts of a minstrel rather than those of a scrivener. There you have it. We are not of the same trade at all and so how can your rules fit me? When my sounds are all in place, I can send them to a stenographer who knows his trade and he can slip the commas about until they sit comfortably and he can spell the words so that school teachers will not raise their eyebrows when they read them. Why should I bother? There are millions of people who are good stenographers but there aren’t so many thousands who can make as nice sounds as I can.
John Steinbeck | Letter to A. Grove Day, Dec 1929 | A Life in Letters