A bracing yarn comes at the end of "Ghost Writers," an essay by Cynthia Ozick, included in the 2009 edition of The Best American Essays (my annual writing seminar).
After spending seven years on a first novel that went unpublished, she spent another seven on Novel Two and sent 800 pages to a publisher:
Back came the manuscript in the mail, with one hundred pages all marked up in red pencil, and a note. The note said, "If you do everything my red pencil suggests, and of course there will be more in this vein, we will accept your novel for publication. But if you decline to follow my red pencil's indispensable advice, then we will decline to publish." Fourteen years gone! Outrun by the cohort of my generation, I lusted for print as Jacob had panted after Rachel. To the editor I wrote: "Seven years I have labored for those words, and yet another seven years; so I say unto you, Nay, not one jot or tittle will I alter or undo." To which the editor replied, "O.K., we'll take it anyway."
Contrary to the huffy mantra, "everybody needs an editor," that we hear from workaday writers like corporate communicators and journalists, a writer who has tried to make something perfect ought to bristle at heavy editing.
Often those edits do turn out to be useful, but the only reason a writer necessarily needs an editor is if he or she hasn't enough talent for the job, hasn't put forth the effort, hasn't spent enough time at it, or is writing to please someone else and not him- or herself.
Which is a lot of us, a lot of the time.
But let's not be self-righteous about it, shall we?