“You can’t publish that” said my wife. “People will think you can’t write!”

My wife was reading the final draft of an article about Elon Musk’s just-announced Tesla Bot, and she wasn’t impressed.

The article was prompted by Musk’s rather bizarre announcement a couple of weeks ago that Tesla are working on a humanoid robot.

The near-immediate comparisons between the Tesla Bot and sci-fi robot-gone-bad movies put this smack in the middle of my expertise as author of a certain book about sci-fi movies, emerging tech and responsible innovation. However, what I really wanted to write about was Elon Musk’s far grander future-building aspirations, and the challenges they raise.

And so I pitched a piece to The Conversation — a platform I’ve written for a lot in the past, but not for the past couple of years or so.

Elon Musk’s Tesla Bot looks like it could have walked straight out of a dystopian science fiction movie!

Editorial Seasoning

I’ve been a huge advocate of The Conversation for years now. They specialize in working with academics to make their work accessible–and newsworthy–to a wide audience. And they do this very well.

A large part of the platform’s success is that they allow other news sites to repost their articles, which broadens their reach considerably (I’ve had previous articles reposted everywhere from the Washington Post to Salon).

But their secret sauce is that you, as a subject expert, get to work with a seasoned editor.

Here I have to admit that I love working with a good editor. They inevitably make my work more focused, relevant and impactful. But the Tesla Bot article was a challenge.

Losing My Voice

Part of the problem was that I’ve developed a distinctive voice and style over the past few years as I’ve focused on writing books.

I obsess over cadence and phrasing in my writing. I work hard on weaving subtle narratives that are nuanced with embedded meaning through my work. And I increasingly blur the lines between my public writing and my scholarship, meaning that my work often plays with and informs new ideas, insights and perspectives.

But voice, cadence, subtlety, and scholarship, were clearly not what my editor was looking for on this occasion!

Nuance Not Required

The ideas I wanted to explore in this article were complex and nuanced. I wanted to look at how Tesla’s proposed robot was a symptom of a much deeper plan to redefine the future — a plan that is so cleverly hidden in plain sight by Musk that he’s winning the game without most people realizing the game exists. And I wanted to consider both the challenges and opportunities that this presents.

Unfortunately, the final draft of the article — the one I was expected to sign off on before publication — was a shadow of what I aspired to. The nuance, flow, subtlety, insights, everything I’d worked so hard to weave through it, had been eviscerated.

My wife’s response (she’s my informal editor and reality-check on most of what I write) was that it would have worked better as a bullet list.


Fifteen Love: Editor

I was within a hairs breadth of pulling the piece from being published. But then sanity and reason overcame my bruised ego, and I pressed “accept” — you can read the result here.

Just for the record, I also posted the original draft on my Medium account.

And here’s the kicker: That editor-eviscerated article that I almost didn’t publish? In the first week, it received over 350,000 views.

And my Medium piece? 96 views.

Sometimes, your editor is right, even when you think they’re wrong!

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