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Paperback The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself Book

ISBN: 0393332179

ISBN13: 9780393332179

The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself

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Book Overview

The Artful Edit explores the many-faceted and often misunderstood--or simply overlooked--art of editing. The book brims with examples, quotes, and case studies, including an illuminating discussion of Max Perkins's editorial collaboration with F. Scott Fitzgerald on The Great Gatsby. Susan Bell, a veteran book editor, also offers strategic tips and exercises for self-editing and a series of remarkable interviews, taking us into the studios of successful...

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Strategies for Editing Your Own Writing

Susan Bell teaches writers what editors do, hoping this will reduce frustration for both. She hopes that "[t]his book will not eliminate the need for an outside editor, but it will minimize it. When writers learn how to better edit themselves, editors will not be out of jobs; rather they will be working with texts at a more advanced stage, and their work will be less an act of excavation than one of refinement." The book's first chapter teaches writers eleven strategies for gaining perspective on what they have written--and grown overly close to. These strategies range from abstract perspective shifting to physical techniques, such as hanging the pages of a chapter on a clothesline to observe the pattern of text across the pages. The second chapter tells authors how to evaluate their writing at the "macro" level, focusing on organization, structure and the sequence and flow of ideas. The third chapter dives to the micro level, helping writers with subtle language choices in sentence-by-sentence writing. We learn to evaluate writing for its repetition, redundancy, clarity, authenticity, continuity, and other well-chosen principles. Bell's fourth chapter presents several extended case studies of writers and their editors working together. The fifth and final chapter traces the development of editing as a profession, from changes medieval scribes introduced as they copied ancient texts to the uneasy, commercially-constrained partnership between modern writers and their time-starved editors. Foremost among the book's strengths are the frequent before-and-after editing examples and the interviews with writers and editors. Numerous excerpts from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Adam Thorpe's Ulverton reveal the working relationships between these authors and their editors. Interviews placed between chapters convey the essence of artistic evaluation and constructive criticism. The interviews with artists and filmmakers teach us much about editing strategies that apply across creative media. Concrete thinkers who equate editing with proofreading and expect lists of commonly misspelled words will be disappointed. The successful reader must understand and apply Susan Bell's lessons at a more abstract level. Susan Bell has much to say about the ongoing struggle between writers and editors for ownership and control. She advises assertiveness and restraint to both. Writers should look courageously at their work, cutting away the excess verbiage that smothers their very best ideas and language--and should defend these hard-won nuggets. Editors must challenge writers to see what does not work, then empower them to rework without undue editorial micromanaging. "The function of an editor is to be a reader," claims Gardner Botsford, as he introduces the last chapter. Susan Bell insists that "...an editor doesn't just read, he reads well, and reading well is a creative, powerful act." Her book attempts to place an editorial presence

Teach Yourself Editing

The author of "The Artful Edit," Susan Bell, a veteran editor of fiction and nonfiction books, teaches at New York's New School graduate writing program. She notes: "Many writers hanker to learn about a process that lives at a hushed remove from the `glamour' of writing: the edit. They want what most creative-writing classrooms are hard-pressed to give, which is detachment from their text in order to see it clearly. . . . Classroom critiques, while helpful, are limited. Too often they don't give a systematic view of a writer's work, and train him to develop a thick skin more than a sensible one." This accords with my experience in an MFA program. Bell cites editing practices of several established writers such as Tracy Kidder's The Soul Of A New Machine, Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, and Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient. The second and third chapters (nearly half of the book) present a detailed analysis of the editing process of several drafts of F Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." It's a good choice of novel as most readers are likely to be familiar with it. Moreover, the editing back and forth between Fitzgerald and the publisher's editor, Max Perkins, is well documented in books such as Scott Berg's "Max Perkins: Editor of Genius." The second chapter, fifty pages long, looks at the big picture and culminates with a handy summary "Macro-Edit: Diagnostic Checklist." The list comprises subtitles such as Intention, Character Credibility, Structure Rhythm, Foreshadowing, Theme or Leitmotiv, and Continuity of Tone. These macro-editing guidelinesis are a major strength of the book. The third chapter, also fifty pages long, examines language details and culminates with "Micro-Edit: Diagnostic Checklist." Here, I would have liked to see some exercises for the reader to do and to compare with suggested solutions as provided in Renni Browne and Dave King's "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers."Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print (The latter lacks exposition of issues in macro-editing.) The final chapter traces the history of editing: "In the last thousand years, editors have roughly gone from servile to celebrated to censorial to collaborative, and finally, to corporate. . . . In our era, more than others, writers must buck up and take care of themselves." I highly recommend Susan Bell's "The Artful Edit" for macro-editing and complementing it with Renni Browne & Dave King's "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" for micro-editing. -- C J Singh

A meditation on what it means to edit

Potential readers of Susan Bell's "The Artful Edit" would do well to consider first what this book is, and what it is not. This is not a replacement for the ubiquitous and essential "Elements of Style" which should be on every English speaker's desk. No, where that fine work was written for everyone who wishes to write, Bell's work, I would dare to presume, is meant for writers. And for those people, her pages sing. Bell offers a considered meditation on various questions related to editing - what it is, how is it done, what purpose does it serve? For each question she looks at the works of different writers to consider both their answers to these question and their methods in considering their own works. These writers, often quoted at length, give the reader a sense that Bell shares the quality that surely must exist in all great editors, that being humility. Of particular pleasure is Bell's use of perhaps the greatest American novel of the last century "The Great Gatsby." Considering this classic, Bell presents text from the draft Fitzgerald first presented to his editor, the notes and comments of that editor, and then Fitzgerald's thoughts and rewrites. Of course, Fitzgerald was fortunate to work with Max Perkins, who worked with many of the best American writers of his time, and is widely considered the master of his craft. As I mentioned, non-writers may not find her efforts useful, particularly as it relates to seeking to "perfect" one's work. But for writers, this thoughtful work will provoke more than a little thought and more than a single reading.

THE ARTFUL EDIT is packed with insights important for aspiring writers.

THE ARTFUL EDIT: ON THE PRACTICE OF EDITING YOURSELF provides a refreshing, new look at the idea of editing and how writers must step apart from their writing process to develop editing as a separate, distinct tool. From holding back on premature editing and using longhand to avoid mistakes made by computer editing choices to using tips and exercises to streamline the editing process, THE ARTFUL EDIT is packed with insights important for aspiring writers.

"Editing is more an attitude than a system."

Susan Bell has been a professional editor of fiction and non-fiction for twenty years. She also teaches editing at New York's New School graduate writing program. In "The Artful Edit," Bell offers expert advice on how to refine one's writing through self-editing. Revising one's work is important because "no editor can, with crystal clarity, know the precise place her author's work ought to go." A writer who edits herself gains independence and control over her work. She may still profit from having another set of eyes review her manuscript, but she will be less dependent on other people's opinions to shape the final product. Bell addresses a variety of questions: What is editing? How has editing evolved over the years? How do various authors approach self-editing? Tracy Kidder, Ann Patchett, Michael Ondaatje, among others, contribute their thoughts on this topic. What is the difference between macro and micro-editing? Why was F. Scott Fitzgerald's association with Maxwell Perkins considered to be "one of history's most rewarding editor-writer collaborations"? How can a writer navigate the editing process with a minimum of angst? A writer's first draft is just the initial step in the creative process: "If writing builds the house, nothing but revision will complete it." Editing is an art, not a science; there is no one-size-fits-all method that works for everyone. However, certain universal principles apply to most types of writing. Any self-editor should aim for clarity, precision, and freshness. He should try to eliminate redundancies, obscure references, pretentiousness, and discontinuity. Bell suggests a variety of techniques to avoid getting into a rut: write in longhand, take a long break before editing, read problem passages out loud, edit in a different place from the one where one normally writes. To further assist the self-editor, Bell includes helpful checklists and exercises. Bell writes lucidly and intelligently, and she is never condescending; she enlivens her text with specific examples that nicely illustrate her ideas. Many readers will be astounded that a writer as gifted as F. Scott Fitzgerald was so self-critical. "The Artful Edit" is an entertaining guide and a valuable tool; it will help everyone from the layman to the professional "face the metaphysical challenge of gaining perspective on his own words."
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