Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Even the best writers need a good editor

A quiJGBallard_Crash_OriginalManuscriptckie ‘cuz I’m swamped today, but this is fascinating: Gordon Lish’s edits on Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

If you have time to go through some of it, you can see (and appreciate) the effect a sharp-eyed editor can have on a text. Some of it is subtle, some is heavier, and some is just different from Carver’s draft, but usually better. Of course, Lish is a fiction writer as well as a great editor, so perhaps he was putting his mark on Carver’s material in a way. Beside the point. He helped make this a classic of the genre.

(The photo is of a J.G. Ballard manuscript page in the British Library.)

[Note: Apparently the New Yorker has removed the link to images of Lish’s edits of a Carver manuscript. That’s too bad. You can still read the story about their relationship, though, which is here.]

6 comments on “Even the best writers need a good editor

  1. margaretjeanlangstaff
    June 4, 2013

    Yeah, but few editors are as talented and sharp as Gordon Lish. Take it from me. Would that they were. Hannah was fortunate. Good point, though, Kev

  2. Kevin Brennan
    June 4, 2013


    What about editors? I know Gordon Lish was a help.


    Gordon Lish was a genius editor. A deep friend and mentor. He taught me how to write short stories. He would cross out everything so there’d be like three lines left, and he would be right.

    This is your good stuff. This is the right rhythm. So I learned to write better short stories under him.

  3. jcollyer
    June 5, 2013

    I think my strength lies more with editing than it does with writing, in fact. I love editing. It’s harder with my own work because I’m closer to it, but give me someone else’s manuscript and a red pen and it’s hard to stop. I love it. And not because I think the other work is bad, it’s because I see how good it *could* be. It’s such an important thing to do and it’s so important to have someone else look and offer to edit your work. There are things you just won’t see or are too close to cut yourself, but without them, the whole thing would just be so much stronger. I can’t wait and yet am dreading the editing stage of my WIP.

  4. Kevin Brennan
    March 25, 2016

    Reblogged this on WHAT THE HELL and commented:

    Just to double down on my post yesterday about editing, here’s a moldy oldie from 2013, looking at what Raymond Carver’s editor did for him. This is the big leagues!

  5. Pingback: Editorial gun for hire | WHAT THE HELL

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