On Self-Editing (Yes, Again!)

On this Sunday, I leave you with the following extensive statement from Susan Bell, the author of The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself:

An editor doesn’t just read, he reads well, and reading well is a creative, powerful act. The ancients knew this and it frightened them. Mesopotamian society, for instance, did not want great reading from its scribes, only great writing. Scribes had to submit to a curious ruse: they had to downplay their reading skills lest they antagonize their employer. The Attic poet Menander wrote: “those who can read see twice as well.” Ancient autocrats did not want their subjects to see that well. Order relied on obedience, not knowledge and reflection. So even though he was paid to read as much as write messages, the scribe’s title cautiously referred to writing alone (scribere = “to write”); and the symbol for Nisaba, the Mesopotamian goddess of scribes, was not a tablet but a stylus. In his excellent book A History of Reading, Alberto Manguel writes, “It was safer for a scribe to be seen not as one who interpreted information, but who merely recorded it for the public good.”

In their fear of readers, ancients understood something we have forgotten about the magnitude of readership. Reading breeds the power of an independent mind. When we read well, we are thinking hard for ourselves—this is the essence of freedom. It is also the essence of editing. Editors are scribes liberated to not simply record and disseminate information, but think hard about it, interpret, and ultimately, influence it.

 

No, I Am Not Promoting Drunkenness!

Please, do not take this advice literally! In fact, I cannot think of even one occasion when I was “drunk” while I was writing. (Phew!) My contemplation is more in line with the possibility that one could feel “drunk” due to the heat of the moment of passionate (as in being engaged, involved, driven, etc.) while one writes creatively. As soon as we are done writing, however, we must make sure to be as alert as we can to attack our written or audio-recorded draft – one version of it after another, if it need be.

Write_drunk__edit_sober

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“Anyone and everyone taking a writing class knows that the secret of good writing is to cut it back, pare it down, winnow, chop, hack, prune, and trim, remove every superfluous word, compress, compress, compress . . .” ~ Nick Hornby

While this site is not about “a writing class”, I consistently aim to provide an insight into the various steps of proofreading, a vital process that comes after our writing is (supposedly) done. I, therefore, am in total agreement with Nick Hornby’s statement. Happy ‘cutting back, paring down, winnowing, chopping, hacking, pruning, trimming, and ‘removing’ “every superfluous word” in your drafts! Remember to “compress, compress, compress . . .” – – – your readers will be utterly appreciative, if you do.

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I am not a fan of Stephen King’s novels. I do not care for the genres of his particular focus. A statement which is claimed to have come from him, however, appealed to me. “In the heat of the moment” – to use a cliché, we tend to get through the initial stages of our written drafts in a painstaking manner; yet, we neglect to observe, assess and critique the outcome as a whole.

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” ~ Stephen King

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Please, excuse the foul language in the quote I am sharing with you today. Also know that this approach is far from being my own stance on any of my editorial work. Still, the statement enticed me enough to invite you to a humorous thought . . . because when it comes to my own writings, I generally beat my drafts to death. As for the manuscripts of others, I am as gentle as a lamb. (Or so I want to believe . . .)

“I’ve found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it.” ~ Don Roff

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“Editing. It’s like dieting; except a lot more violent.” ~ Leya Delray

I agree with this claim. I only want to add “self-editing” to the equation. When it comes to my own writings, I am often in a turmoil of a large variety of emotions, thoughts and judgments. I have recently completed a new book. Prose poetry. I forget how many drafts I have worked on (I am afraid to look at that folder . . .) And I know that the “best editing” will materialize on the print-copy, as my dear publisher would say. How about you?

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My last post was about self-editing. How to self-edit “until your fingers bleed (CK Webb)”. This time, too, I am sharing with you a quote on the same subject matter. An editor must be brutally honest and utterly diligent when it comes to her / his own work also – maybe even more so when manuscripts are concerned with which she / he has been entrusted by others. “Dark side” or not, I know that I will keep myself entangled in this process. I still wonder . . . what do you make of the statement below?

“Self editing is the path to the dark side. Self editing leads to self delusion, self delusion leads to missed mistakes, missed mistakes lead to bad reviews. Bad reviews are the tools of the dark side.” ~ Eric T. Benoit