A Gentle Way to Self-Edit

Don’t cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.) Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.) Lose control. Don’t think. Don’t get logical. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.) ~ Natalie Goldberg

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.

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Writing and Editing, 40

“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.

Writing and Editing, 38

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

Writing and Editing, 36

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