Sunday, September 7, 2008

Editing and editors

Two famous magazine fiction editors, Ted Solotaroff and Rust Hills, died a few of weeks ago, and I meant to post a little while back on this appreciation by Thomas Beller in Slate. He had some interesting insights about editors and editing:

“There is something both exhilarating and vexing about seeing writing in manuscript form (even if the manuscript is on the screen). Editing is really about deciding—you have to decide whether you like the overall voice and content of what you are reading, and if you do, you have to make certain decisions about the internal life of the piece. Editing can be at its most profound when it involves making a vague, almost aphoristic remark that might change a writer's entire focus, and it can be most profound when it entails wrestling with minutia, adding commas or subtracting them and, in this tiny way, changing the whole style and feel of a piece of writing. The malleability of a piece of writing as it is experienced by the reader in draft form makes reading more taxing than it would be on the printed page. But it also brings with it a bump of excitement. It lends a feeling of power and adventure to the reading experience.”

I was never a famous magazine fiction editor, but I’ve spent a good bit of my working life making vague, if not aphoristic, remarks to writers, and wrestling with minutia—which can, indeed, change the whole style and feel of a piece of writing. When I’m editing, of course, I always think I’m urging a positive, even vital, change. When I’m writing, on the other hand, I always feel I’m dealing with insensitive dullards who don’t recognize perfection when they see it and just want to get their fingerprints on my masterpiece. That bump of excitement can work both ways.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"That bump of excitement can work both ways."

Which is why editing yourself is a very taxing emotional experience!