- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (August 17, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393332179
- ISBN-13: 978-0393332179
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 36 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #252,926 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself Reprint Edition
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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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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 in the mind of each writer.
This book is highly recommended to writers who want to improve their work and their work process. It is beneficial to writers of both fiction and nonfiction.
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