That errant spot of ink, she believes, makes a difference, contributing to what she calls a ‘routine but serious misunderstanding’ of the document.
Q: Do you ever find your work isolating?
A: Writing—that’s a lonely job. Editors are lucky enough to be thrown into the company of many, but you have to make time to be alone. Because the work isn’t necessarily solitary, it’s easy to get distracted by meetings and hanging out. It’s important to have the time to do your work, but also to lie awake and worry.
Even though the advice to “kill your darlings” implies editing your writing is a painful process, some writers relish it. At The New York Times, Pamela Erens discusses the pleasures of trimming down her writing. “For every word I cut, I seem to have more space between my ribs, more lung capacity.” For more Erens, read her essay on accepting her book cover.
I wonder now if it needed to take that long. Because I have cared in the past as much about how something is said as what’s being said, I have made it a point to hone lines and perfect scenes before I know if a character or a plotline will ultimately work. That means I can take forever getting something right, only to have someone like yourself point out that it might be entirely wrong. There’s a bit of a battle/war problem here. By the time I perfect something, the war be damned—look at all the battles I’ve made pretty! It’s an inefficient and self-destructive and often heartbreaking way to work, with the only comfort that of knowing you’ve been faithful even to the scraps.
When a novel is printed in multiple countries, it often has more than one editor. Slate interviews Emma Donoghue; her American editor, Judy Clain; and her Canadian editor, Iris Tupholme, about how they all edited Frog Music. They discuss everything from how to deal with editing disputes to the best way to get edits. “I much prefer to get everyone’s opinions separately, because if I got a single editorial letter, it would be like getting a note from God!” Donoghue says. For more on the editing process, read about our own Edan Lepucki’s relationships with her copy editor and editor.
When I edit, I try to look at the big picture first. What is this book trying to do? In some cases, it’s telling an exciting story, in others it’s exploring a fascinating set of characters, or in others teaching the reader something new. My job is to make suggestions on how the author can take what he or she is already doing and make it even better. Mostly, I try to think about how the reader will react to the text. Is there something a reader might not understand? If so, the author should probably clarify it. Is there something that will make this a more page-turning read? If so, let’s do it. And of course, along the way, you’ll catch smaller things — plot and character inconsistencies, grammar errors, etc. — but it all leads to the same goal of making it the best possible experience for the reader.
'See here, I want you to come to Random House and lose some money for us with literary books,' the press’s president and publisher, Harold Evans, told Daniel Menaker, then fiction editor of The New Yorker, in 1995. 'You have five years to fook oop.'
Because I read slowly, I also remember odd little details that provide a strong visual image, and so as I read along, if my visual image is jarred by a description, I’ll backtrack to figure out if there’s some inconsistency. I remember more details about characters in novels I’ve copyedited than I remember from my own life.
Edan Lepucki, “Style Sheet: A Conversation with My Copyeditor”
The founding editors are slowing down. We’re not mad at anyone anymore. We think everything is great. … But amazingly at n+1, we’ve had this younger generation of angry young women kind of rise up. Something has created space for young editors to come in and be really angry… But that’s holy, that’s the thing that makes great writing: being angry.