Oh Editor, Where Art Thou?

Well folks, I’m back in the ‘hood! Entire buildings in Mission Bay and Dogpatch (two neighborhoods in San Francisco) were either razed or raised over the past five weeks during my holiday. Gone tooooooo long!

I read a few books while traipsing about the countryside. Here’s one that was recommended to me by another writer I met at the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop:

The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself

Bell covers everything from “Gaining Perspective” on your work, to the difference between macro and micro editing. She provides specific examples of how to gain perspective (some you may have heard of or tried before, but others may be new). I think the two most helpful chapters offer checklists for macro (intention, character, structure, etc.) and micro (language, redundancy, clarity, etc.) editing along with examples and discussion of timing for each approach.

Although Bell tends to be a little wishy-washy in her stances, I believe it’s her attempt to say “this may not work for you” or “it may be difficult to do this but you must try.” I also think that she struggles with the very issue she attempts to address: when the writer and editor are the same person, it can be profoundly difficult to do both effectively. Although this book may be helpful to you, I would suggest that you read it and then hand it to your beta reader(s) and have them use it to guide their responses.

I did find the exchanges between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his editor, Max Perkins, especially interesting. It shows how much a good editor can influence a manuscript at both the macro and micro levels.

Bell takes a chapter to broaden her scope, showing how two artists in other fields edit their work: Walter Murch (film and sound editor for movies such as The Godfather series, Apocalypse Now, and The English Patient) and Mitch Epstein (a photographer whose style “brings to mind a marriage of Edward Hopper and Jean-Luc Godard”). I don’t think, however, that the interviews with other writers in this chapter offer much new insight.

She then closes the book with a chapter on the history of editing, interesting but not necessarily helpful for the writer who wants to edit his/her own work.

Overall, I think it’s worth the $15.95 investment. It’s a quick read, and I do think it will not only help me weed out some of my more obvious errors, it will make me a better editor for others’ manuscripts.



Filed under Craft

5 responses to “Oh Editor, Where Art Thou?

  1. Welcome home and thanks for the great post, Jill. I agree that the issue of one person functioning as both writer and editor is challenging, and maybe the outcome will be different for each person. I do think that switching to editor mode for one’s own work can be helped by the simple issue of time. Putting the ms down for a long while–and better yet, working on something else entirely to free your mind of the minutiae of the project–helps with the distance needed to return with less subjectivity and certainly less creative fatigue. With more people self-publishing on sometimes limited budgets and also legacy publishers wanting close-to-finished products, it is critical to have some editing skills, even if only so the writer can be receptive to an editor and understand the process.

    • Well said, Laurel! And that’s one of the points she makes in her first chapter on perspective. Time gives us all a better perspective, whether it’s from a personal hurt or a work of art. Working on something else is a great way to keep an author from dwelling on a piece of work that needs some time to ferment. đŸ˜®

      I am a firm believer in starting with a self-edit, giving it a rest and having at least another pair of eyes take a look—whether you plan to self-publish or send it out to agents or publishers.

  2. Pingback: Not Just for Poets | Jilanne Hoffmann

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