Posts Tagged ‘editing’

Silvers on editing

26 January 2013

The New York Review of Books is about to turn 50, and its editor, Robert Silvers, now in his eighties, is the subject of this week’s ‘Lunch with the FT‘ profile.

One of the paragraphs is unmissable, at least if you’re interested in words and writing:

Editing, Silvers advises me, is an instinct. … “You see something in a piece that you can’t understand, and you have to say, ‘Can it be clearer?’ Issues that are left out, you have to raise them. You see dead or tired metaphors, you have to get rid of them.” He pokes at the sprouts in his little bowl, explaining how various phrases are tired or misused – “compelling”, “key”, “massive”, “context” – before looking down. “On the table!” he cries. The metaphorical table, he says, is now terribly overburdened, “with ‘issues’, ‘phrases’, ‘treaties’, ‘wars’ … ”

For the rest of it, you’ll have to buy the FT. But I can reveal that he thinks that long-form journalism will survive, and seems distraught that there’s so many words out here in the blogosphere that he and other critics can’t get a handle on. The interviewer was Emily Stokes.

The picture of the rather ascetic cover of the first issue of the NYRB is from its website, and is used with thanks.


Cutting novels

13 September 2009


James Buchan had a review in Saturday’s Guardian of Colum McCann’s novel Let The Great World Spin, which I mentioned last week. Although he’s broadly sympathetic, he thinks it too long, and suggests a useful rule of thumb for editing novels which is worth repeating here:

Almost all novels are improved by cutting from the top. On their first pages, authors parade those favourite effects which disgust the impartial reader. McCann’s first chapter reads like Time magazine at its most solemn and sentimental. (“Those who saw him hushed. On Church Street. Liberty. Cortlandt. West Street. Fulton. Vesey.”) The story proper, as in so many novels, begins some way into the second chapter.

I liked his combination of ‘parade’, ‘effects’, and ‘disgust’. He also has another rule of thumb about the role of vintage cars in fiction: don’t do it.

Two of his characters, downtown junkie artists, are given a 1927 Pontiac Landau, which is forever parked across the narrative. Classic cars should be avoided in fiction.

The rest of the review can be read here.

The picture, of Chris Locke’s ‘scissor spiders’, can be found at the 2dayblog.

From ‘pub’ to ‘pisshouse’

23 January 2009


One of the finest apologies ever seen, from the British Medical Journal, is spotted by the Guardian’s diary:

“During the editing of this Review of the Week by Richard Smith, the author’s term ‘pisshouse’ was changed to ‘pub’ in the sentence: ‘Then, in true British and male style, Hammond met Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, in the pub and did a deal.’ However, a pisshouse is apparently a gentleman’s toilet, and (in the author’s social circle at least) the phrase ‘pisshouse deal’ is well known. (It alludes to the tendency of men to make deals while standing side by side and urinating.) In the more genteel confines of the BMJ Editorial Office, however, this term was unknown and a mistake was made in translating it into more standard English. We apologise.”

Hard to believe that the editorial wing of the British Medical Association – which, let’s face it, is one of the bastions of the British establishment – is a stranger to the notion of deals being done in the gents, although I’m willing to believe that they wouldn’t use the word ‘pisshouse’ to describe it. Reminds me of a friend (I need to be a bit vague here) who was one of the first women to serve on an all-male governing body.  She would find  that the men would call an adjournment and then resolve their differences during the break, usually in the gents. She would have to make herself unpopular by asking them to repeat conversations which had been conducted “in private” in the break.