The joy of re-writing (with the right editor)

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Here I am, leafing through the manuscript as I write the second draft.

Somewhat to my own surprise, I’ve discovered that there is something beautifully visceral about seeing the actual, manual ink comments of my editor on paper, as opposed to the “track-changes” mark-up in a computer file. You can see when he started to comment, then changed his mind and crossed it out; when he doodled or drew arrows and vectors as thought exercises to link ideas; when he pressed hard or light, and many other non-linear, sensual clues to how he was experiencing my manuscript.

For my part, I am having a blast.

Editors are hugely important for me as a writer, both in my day job at The Economist (even though this degree of editorial intervention was unique) and in my new role as author.

  • A bad editor either does not get it or thrusts himself into a text, in the process “de-sophisticating” it.
  • A good editor gets the author and his idea and wants to amplify it.

I have been very, very lucky: I have found a great editor. Not only does he get it, he has made comments that I myself had already thought, and thus was needing to hear. That may sound strange, but it happens a lot to writers: We get caught up in our own words, have a sense of what needs to be changed but feel obstructed until somebody gives us the liberating nudge.

On an aside: It helps to be doing this in my new setting, after my recent move, while gazing at this scene below. It looks Greek but is Californian. Uncluttered. Nice blues.

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8 thoughts on “The joy of re-writing (with the right editor)

  1. On the subject of editing and serendipitously since we’ve discussed Dan Baum on other threads – here’s one of my favorite images of the process. His wife, co-writer and professional editor at work (scroll to 2nd picture)

    “for example, I reduced the manuscript from 190,000 words to 117,000 without losing a single scene or character — just by tightening sentences and trimming fat.”

    • I hope Andreas will share some of the statistical aspects (such as word count, percent of historical character vs. percent of real person edited) and other types of decisions his editor made to improve the final product.

      Although I’d like to view myself as a big picture person, I do enjoy the details, especially in a word cut….since I have been an editor of sorts 😉 for over 30 years!

      Jag, I am wondering what you think of the presentation of Margaret Knox’s site with the big font and simple writing. The pictures and New Orleans reference.

      Also, how many words were cut from your first manuscript to the final?

    • Hi Cheri – apologies for slow response.

      a) Re text stats – not a simple question. What complicates the issue for Hanging Noodles is that its not straight text. Of it’s 50k words about 20k are the idiom lists. The text of the chapter intro essays shrunk 10% during formal editing. I’d gone through 16 versions by that point – so had done a lot of reshaping and pruning myself – before the National Geographic editors got it.

      b) Re Knox’s web site – its certainly retro and basic. Not that there’s anything wrong with basic – my own web site is equally guilty…

      Hope you will share your text stats when the time comes.

    • Sixteen versions! Wow…and I thought Fitzgerald was amazing rewriting Gatsby nine times.

      I like basic,too. I suppose Margaret Knox’s site might convey to a potential client that, like Thoreau, she will front only the essentials of life in the editing process.

  2. I’ll be happy to give you some stats once I’ve done all the chapters. I get a kick out of that sort of thing too.

    Right now, some chapters’ word count is growing by 5% or so, while the other chapters are shrinking, because I am moving parts of some characters’ stories to other chapters. That’s because I’m trying to weave together the stories more seamlessly. Hard to explain.

    Historical vs “real”: Actually, I also have a third category, mythical, and fourth, me. But those two are small. So I weave together the ancient with the mythical and the modern, to show that there are archetypal patterns in ALL our lives.

    I’d say Hannibal/Scipio have about 40%, moderns most of the rest.

    • Yes. Historical figures were real, so not sure why I chose to call the Amy Tan types real and the others historical. Clearly I was in my child state when I used that word…real. :}

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