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The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself Paperback – 28 Jul 2008

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (28 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393332179
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393332179
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 1.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 215,207 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is superbly written, and I'd say an absolute must for any aspiring writer who has a reasonable amount of self-respect. 'The Artful Edit' is not just very informative but also immensely engaging - Susan Bell knows how to tell a story! and so she has managed to turn what was, let's face it, not exactly an exciting subject, into a veritable page-turner. I'd recommend this to everyone, not just the would-be writer looking for useful and clever tips (which you'll find in here), but also to those who want to become better readers. After this, your favourite books will never be the same again; you will become a lot more appreciative but also much more critical of everything you read, watch or see, fiction or non-.

Apart from an excellent short history of editing as an occupation/business, the book then mainly refers to American writers, artists, and editors. But don't let that put you off; the morals of the stories and Bell's basic principles are universally applicable. After all, she's talking about heavyweights such as the people at 'The New Yorker' here... We are also allowed a peep here and there into the world of editing in other art forms, such as film and professional photography, or we are told a brilliant quote from a celebrated dancer/choreographer who felt, after a mere 37 years, that she had finally mastered her craft. 37 years! Wonderful stuff. We are also explained clearly that, sadly, gone are the days when Scott Fitzgerald's editor spent an eternity coaxing 'The Great Gatsby' into the masterpiece it became - today, writers must be self-reliant, or fail.

A perfectly literary offering in its own right, the book nevertheless offers practical advice which is far superior to everything I have read in the creative writing and self-editing area.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Susan Bell teaches writers what editors do, hoping this will reduce frustration for both. She hopes that "[t]his book will not eliminate the need for an outside editor, but it will minimize it. When writers learn how to better edit themselves, editors will not be out of jobs; rather they will be working with texts at a more advanced stage, and their work will be less an act of excavation than one of refinement."

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.
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Great for students studying English or Creative-Writing. Very easy to understand, giving you great depths of insight at the same time. Macro/micro editing detail is spot on. May help if you read 'The Great Gatsby' first, as Bell makes many references to Fitzgerald.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8f6b303c) out of 5 stars 34 reviews
28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8fec38f4) out of 5 stars "Editing is more an attitude than a system." 28 Aug. 2007
By E. Bukowsky - Published on Amazon.com
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. Bell suggests a variety of techniques to avoid getting into a rut: write in longhand, take a long break before editing, read problem passages out loud, edit in a different place from the one where one normally writes. To further assist the self-editor, Bell includes helpful checklists and exercises.

Bell writes lucidly and intelligently, and she is never condescending; she enlivens her text with specific examples that nicely illustrate her ideas. Many readers will be astounded that a writer as gifted as F. Scott Fitzgerald was so self-critical. "The Artful Edit" is an entertaining guide and a valuable tool; it will help everyone from the layman to the professional "face the metaphysical challenge of gaining perspective on his own words."
46 of 56 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8fec3f00) out of 5 stars Not as Good as I Had Hoped 11 Mar. 2008
By Howard Goldowsky - Published on Amazon.com
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). In each chapter there were nuggets of fresh insight, as the introduction promised, but, in general, my take-away notes from this book came to less than half a page. A lot of the book is filled with general ideas, and general remarks about editing rather than specific details about how one needs to think and act towards ones own writing as a self-editor.

After reading this book you'll learn that, as a self-editor, "you'll need to practice whatever works best for you." Now, what kind of practical advice is that?
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8f743450) out of 5 stars A meditation on what it means to edit 23 Jan. 2008
By J. A Magill - Published on Amazon.com
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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8f2ba3d8) out of 5 stars This is probably Required Reading for any writer or editor. 16 Feb. 2013
By Esther Schindler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Once upon a time, we professional writers had several paid nitpickers between our raw prose and the words on the printed page. For my first book, I had an acquisition editor, a development editor, a copy editor, and probably another one whom I've forgotten by now. When I wrote my first technical article for PC Magazine, it went through at least four revisions before the editor accepted the manuscript. I didn't just accept the changes the editors made or answer their queries; I did my best to learn from the advice ("This sentence is too long; let's break it up") and apply it to my next project. Which probably is why, these days, I spend more time editing other people than I do writing, anymore. Even if it isn't considered "necessary" I send an Author Review for the writer so she can answer queries ("Is 'turgid' the right word here?" "It isn't clear to whom 'he' refers; clarify please"), see the changes I suggested, and tell me if my changes inserted errors (it does happen).

Many of my friends are not quite so lucky. Even as well-paid professional bloggers, they write an essay and then post it themselves, with nobody to point out errors or typos or poor judgement other than their readers. And you KNOW how friendly and supportive people are on the Internet... no?

Another editor-friend recommended this book to me after he took a workshop with Susan Bell, and I within a few pages I understood his enthusiasm. Her advice is both practical (here's the steps you should consider for a macro-edit; here's what to do on a micro-edit) and strategic (what is it we're doing here exactly?). The editing advice is written primarily for long fiction (and I certainly hope that at least a few of the people who send me "Please review my self-published book!" apply her suggestions). But as someone who spends most of the week editing shorter non-fiction I can comfortably assert that most of it applies to other writing equally well. Plus, although this is ostensibly about SELF editing, the how-to-edit stuff articulates beautifully the steps that I go through in editing someone else's writing. Often I could not tell you WHY I changed that phrase, and her explanations made me say "Yes! That's it!" several times.

There are several examples from-real-life about how others edit their work, both writers -- of course -- and people from other professions, such as Walter Murch, film and sound editor on such films as The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and The English Patient. "What you do as an editor is search for patterns, at both the superficial and deeper levels--as deep as you can go," Murch tells Bell.

When my friend told me that for a primary example Bell used The Great Gatsby, I confess that I wrinkled my nose. I read Gatsby as a teenager, I think, and while I thought it was okay I never saw what the fuss was all about. (Now, of course, I shall have to go back and re-read it.) Bell explains that she chose the Fitzgerald novel because "It is, quite simply, a tour de force of revision. So much so that critics, who rarely mention the edit of a book, pointed to the quality of Fitzgerald's rewriting, not just writing, in reviews." Plus, we still have the first drafts of Gatsby to look at, giving plenty of before-and-after examples. Much of the credit for Gatsby's success (and I supposed the generations of high school students who have to wade through the book) goes to Maxwell Perkins, considered the saint of editors, who helped Fitzgerald polish the diamond he had created. Bell's examination of their correspondence demonstrates the attitude that makes a good editor-writer relationship, which I try in my halting and awkward way to emulate.

So, for example, Bell discusses foreshadowing with an example of it from Gatsby that Fitzgerald added in the book's galleys. As she explains, "Whether we are science writers, children's writers, or art critics, we have to compel readers to the end. Foreshadowing is a good tool for it, and editing is an ideal time to introduce and hone your foreshadowing," also warning, "If a reader feels like a huge mechanical hand has lifted her up from point A to point B, it's a good bet the foreshadowing is too obvious."

After a while I began putting sticky notes on pages that I wanted to highlight. The book is now fluttering with yellow flags, like a poorly plucked chicken.

Which is not to say that the book is perfect. Bell's advice is colored by her experience, of course, and she clearly likes capital-L literature more than I do. I don't find her writing pretentious but I can grok the viewpoint of the reviewers here who do. Bell works hard to show that different methods work for different writers (I love the visual of hanging up the pages of a manuscript on a clothes-line) but I wish she had stressed the point that you should try a few of these techniques, even if you think they're silly, to see how they affect your editing. (I do have one cherished author who might benefit from using search-and-replace on his articles to change every use of the word "though" to bright red, then stepping back to see how often he over-uses it. Maybe that would break him of the habit, or at least make him remove the word in his edit pass more often.)

But those are mere quibbles. As you can tell, I think this is an outstanding book. It's going alongside the other Must-Read books on my writing shelf, including Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and The Art and Craft of Feature Writing.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8f2ba378) out of 5 stars Should Have Been A 5... 27 Mar. 2014
By Christoph Paul - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
The writer of this book gets a 5 but the publisher gets a 3, though it should be a 2. The actual editing and advice is excellent and I will use it, but I felt so annoyed and angry at the fluff they threw in the back to give it a certain amount of a word count. Susan Bell is awesome and if that is all she had to say on editing that would have been fine, charge a little less and let it be a smaller book, but it felt like the publisher needed some kind of filler to charge more and put in some interviews that added nothing but a reason for me to spend more money. I am not self-editing this review by the way, but I will self-edit my fiction and it will be better because of this book. I recommend buying this book on paperback used and cheap.
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