Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Even the best writers need a good editor

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!

[Rats, now I see that the link has expired. I’ll see if I can find a replacement, ‘cuz it’s good stuff.]

[OK, here’s the article, but apparently the New Yorker has removed a link to images of Gordon Lish’s edits of a Carver manuscript. Copyright issues, no doubt. Read the article, though, to get an idea how these two giants worked together.]


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.)

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

  1. pinklightsabre
    March 25, 2016

    Yes, this is one of my favorite examples of good editing. My wife Dawn studied this in a writing course she took a few years ago and shared it with me. I like how effectively they agreed to take about three pages and cut it down to what, one or two lines? And while it’s semi-interesting (the part that got cut out) it sure focuses us in on the pulp. There’s that line about killing your babies from acting, that I think applies to writing just the same. I had a lot of material from my trip to Amsterdam I liked, and a backlog of it, and scrapped so much of it because it didn’t quite fit. It’s a lovely balance and yes, better assisted than a party of one.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 25, 2016

      Yes indeed, but I always have to remind myself that Carver is the patron saint of minimalism and maybe we’ve moved past that by now. I like concise writing and writing that implies a lot between the lines, but I also like well-crafted sentences that sound so good you want to read them again. I wish I could pull that off!

      • 1WriteWay
        April 4, 2016

        My god, Kevin, you do write “well-crafted sentences that sound so good you want to read them again”! At least, I think so 🙂

      • Kevin Brennan
        April 4, 2016

        Awww! Me speechless.

      • 1WriteWay
        April 5, 2016

        Speechless is okay. Just keep writing 😉

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This entry was posted on March 25, 2016 by in Publishing.
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