When I was growing up in Nebraska, my family was famous for always telling its young, “Never write something you don’t want read out loud to the rest of the world.”
That sort of advice, bundled in a warning, and wrapped in a grin and punctuated by a pointing finger, was daunting for a group of nine-year-old cousins to comprehend as we scrawled our names in crayon on a Big Chief pencil tablet.
As the publisher of GO INSIDE Magazine, I am amazed how many of my authors over the years have written to me years after the publication of their work to either have their article deleted — because they changed their mind and no longer feel that way
— or because they didn’t want anyone doing a Google search on their name to find the article they wrote “way back when” when they apply for a job.
As if urged on by my Midwestern DNA, I pull out my wagging finger and my virtual GRIN and I calmly tell those authors we do not “unpublish” articles and we do not delete or add-to an author’s byline after publication.
Articles are frozen moments in time — even on the web — and that reliability and predictability that what is published stays published and unchanged is a sacred covenant between a publisher and an author and a reader that must never be abridged or broken. I often get a response back from those authors who either say, “You are not The New York Times so delete my article.”
Or, “I can’t have my employer reading that, can’t you just use my middle name instead of my first name to hide my identity?” My answer to them is it doesn’t matter if we are The New York Times or Time Magazine or Big Billy’s Boobies Blog
— publication is an event in time that can never be changed or you are not honoring history or the intention of preserving the record.
An author’s words become larger than the author after publication. An author’s words belong to the intellectual world and the universal community of mind. My response rarely assuages those authors so I offer them the opportunity to recant their own work in print right next to their original article. They can write on-the-record how they have changed their mind and why they no longer believe or support their original arguments.
That sort of self-repudiation of the former being is always sad because there is no graceful way to remove the power of the original published impulse, but that doesn’t stop authors from trying to set their current table right by disavowing the facts of their past. “Own Your Words.”
That’s what I remind all my GO INSIDE Magazine authors and I also share that publication mantra with my students and my friends and my associates and anyone else who chooses to publish their private thoughts on the web, because once you set down those ideas for eyes and ears other than your own, the power of the pen, the swoosh of a sharpened and gleaming, mightier, sword, can never be recalled to its sheath by wishing or be made duller by the regret of fleeting circumstance.