About 300 authors have now written posts for the FCPA Blog. And while every day at the FCPA Blog is Be Kind to Guest Authors Day, we thought a special day in favor of the editors would also be nice, at least for the editors.
So today is that day.
Editing is usually about omissions. Those are hard choices for writers and editors.
First, though, comes the writing. One of the FCPA Blog editors shared this advice for guest authors. It’s from a John McPhee article in the New Yorker called Omission:
At base you have only one criterion: If something interests you, it goes in — if not, it stays out. That’s a crude way to assess things, but it’s all you’ve got. Forget market research. Never market-research your writing. Write on subjects in which you have enough interest on your own to see you through all the stops, starts, hesitations, and other impediments along the way.
(McPhee followed his own advice; he once wrote an entire book about oranges.)
But, McPhee says to writers, remember what Ernest Hemingway wrote in “Death in the Afternoon”:
If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.
After the writing, there’s always some editing to do. What’s the final rule there? Also from McPhee: “Do not do violence to the author’s tone, manner, nature, style, thumbprint.”
The process of omission in writing and editing, McPhee says, is not unlike the work sculptors do:
Sculptors address the deletion of material in their own analogous way. Michelangelo: “The more the marble wastes, the more the statue grows.” Michelangelo: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Michelangelo, loosely, as we can imagine him with six tons of Carrara marble, a mallet, a point chisel, a pitching tool, a tooth chisel, a claw chisel, rasps, rifflers, and a bush hammer: “I’m just taking away what doesn’t belong there.”
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To mark the occasion of Be Kind to Your Editor Day, here’s a great ten-minute Ted Talk from Mary Norris, also of the New Yorker. She’s been a copy editor there for more than thirty years, becoming affectionately known as the Comma Queen. Copy editing is the nit-picking part of the editor’s job.
Happy Be Kind to Your Editor Day!
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and, ahem, editor of the FCPA Blog. He’ll be the keynote speaker at the FCPA Blog NYC Conference 2016.