For the past few weeks, and at the suggestion of Madeline Gins, I've been working with a copy editor. My eyes have been completely opened. I feel the way a newborn must feel, as her mother tends to her matter-laden eyes with such measured and well-intentioned movements. It's as if an entirely new set of circumstances has suddenly, and more clearly, been laid out before me. Why couldn't I see this way before?
Truly, I want a copy editor to review everything that I write. In many respects, I can now feel "my editor" as she kneads the words in my head, even before they're pressed upon the page. "It can be smoother still," I can hear her iterating. Working with her has been such a profound, illuminating experience. It's almost like the sensation I experienced when switching from the brutality of a typewriter, to the grace and ease of a computer. I can still feel the keys tingling beneath my fingertips as I read her suggested revisions. And, of course, she's been right virtually one-hundred-percent of the time.
I can feel her as she carefully wades into the text. She's so attentive not to interrupt the flow. Yet, you can still sense her presence, as she works to uplift the man-made boulders from the middle of the restless stream. Visually, I see and take note of her comments and suggestions. I try to plot out their alternative courses of action, and what they might mean for the rest of the text. The margins come alive, even as they sever their connections to the body of work, in a way that they always should, with vigor and focus. To be sure, looking from the shore is an acquired perspective.
Alongside this momentous discovery, which I'm still trying to digest, I've recently stumbled upon the work of Max Perkins. This might sound ironic, since he's primarily known as the editor and confidante of some of the last centuries greatest literary titans: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe and the affably talented Marguerite Young. Have you read Miss MacIntosh, My Darling? Needless to say, I've been thinking a lot about the relationship between an editor and an author. Mandy Brown has unearthed some wonderful comments by Perkins on this precise subject. You can read them here.
Perkins once offered writing advice to a young servicemen eager to take up his pen. He wrote: "I think, in truth, that the best writing of all is done long after the events it is concerned with, when they have been digested and reflected upon unconsciously, and the writer has completely realized them in himself. It is good journalistic writing that is done quickly while everything is still new, but not the best writing. . . " Living in the age of the blog, when journalism itself has been called into question, I find this advice extremely refreshing. Further still, I was struck by what I perceive to be his single best piece of advice: "Learn about writing from reading."