Sunday, May 31, 2009

Artful editing

All week I've been reading a fascinating essay posted in parts on The Elegant Variation. (Part 1 of 4 starts here.) It's an excerpt of a longer essay by Susan Bell, author of The Artful Edit, in a new anthology called The Writer's Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House. Inspired by this essay, I now have both those books on order. I wish I had had them the last month while I was cooling my heels before starting the current draft.

The essay is a close analysis of the revisions that Fitzgerald made to The Great Gatsby in response to feedback from his editor, Max Perkins. The working relationship itself is fascinating to learn about, but what I found most inspiring was the human familiarity of Fitzgerald's draft.

It's comforting to know that at key moments in his draft he tended to some of the same awkwardness at the sentence level and the same clumsy "clustering" of plot points. He found astoundingly artful solutions to these problems by the time he finished the final draft, which the rest of us can only hope for. That's if we develop the critical eye to see these problems in our own work to begin with. But the problems were there in the draft. It's nice to know we have that much in common at least.

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