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The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself Reprint Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393332179
ISBN-10: 0393332179
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Every writer is an editor if only for choosing one word over another. However, the ability to edit your own work consciously as you go along or after the work is done is another thing altogether and one that leaves many a writer nonplussed. Enter Bell, a long-time professional editor of both fiction and nonfiction (Dare to Hope: Saving American Democracy) as well as a teacher of editing at the New School in New York. Bell flat out states that self-editing is not only possible, it's necessary, and it can be learned. She provides a slew of ingenious methods for viewing your work with fresh eyes (hang the pages on a clothesline, use a different font when printing out). She also supplies exercises on macro-editing (dealing with structure, character, etc.). Neither how-to nor memoir, the book includes a little bit of everything: Bell's own experiences editing writers; a long section on how F. Scott Fitzgerald—the consummate self-editor—produced The Great Gatsby; lengthy quotes by well-known authors on their self-editing process; and a list of editing symbols. Bell's prose is elegant and wonderfully readable in this artful guide. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Susan Bell has edited fiction and nonfiction professionally, including at Random House and Conjunctions magazine, for almost twenty years. She lives in New York City and teaches at The New School and Tin House Writers Workshop.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (August 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393332179
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393332179
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,919 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
Bell started strong, with an interesting introduction about the importance of editing and the importance of separating the writer from the self-editor; however, the book took on a structure that felt more like a pastiche of lecture notes than a full-length book. Much of the book is not her original material. For example, at the end of each chapter Bell summarizes for a few pages, and then tacks on 2-3 pages of personal anecdote written by one of her writer friends. A whole chapter (Chapter 5) is even dedicated to examining the "editing" process of painters, photographers, and other minor writers. Some of this anecdotal evidence relates to self-editing, but much of it is not. Much of the content is about "what feels right" and subjective ideas rather than hard-core practical advice -- entertaining, but not pragmatic.

In Chapter one, Bell generalizes about some unorthodox methods of reviewing your work, like pinning your pages on a clothes-line so you can "see the big picture," or writing your prose in longhand; sometimes she talks about the pluses and minuses of using a computer. What I didn't like about these suggestions is that they border on cliche. I've heard them all before. The second and third chapters are about macro- and micro-editing, respectively. In these two chapters (as well as in a few other places) Bell uses The Great Gatsby and Fitzerald's relationship with his editor, Max Perkins, to review some general principles of editing. She talks about structure and symbolism in Chapter 2, and things like avoiding "ing" verbs, adverbs, and adjectives, and when to "show" and when to "tell," in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 is her sycophantic exercise towards the painters and the photographers; Chapter 5 is a short history of editing (not much about the self-editing process here).
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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