Saturday, January 1, 2011

Worth quoting

I LOVE QUOTES about writing and editing, although I have to admit that you'll find few quotations about editing. Editing is workmanlike; writing is sexy.

Harold Ross, an editor who died in 1951, said that "Editing is the same as quarreling with writers -- same thing exactly." He might have been right. Writers have argued with me, and, sadly, I've argued with an editor or two who changed my prose.

The famed James Thurber had more to say about editing, "Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counseling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should say to himself, 'How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style?' and avoid 'How can I show him how I would write it, if it were my piece?' "

I agree with Thurber. I don't make wholesale changes, unless, of course, the writing is a mess. Then I'll rewrite it. A veteran writer who knows what he's doing needs subtle editing. But all writers need editing.

Philip Cosby said "When in doubt, delete it." That's good advice. The famous line in journalism, "When in doubt, cut it out," echoes it. Or vice versa.

T.S. Eliot, a pretty good writer, said, "An editor should tell the author his writing is better than it is. Not a lot better, a little better." That's good advice. Always be encouraging.

Eliot could be cruel, though. Consider this quote: "I suppose some editors are failed writers; but so are most writers." It's true, but writers and editors don't want to hear it.

Robert Louis Stevenson apparently understood editing when he said, "There is but one art, to omit."

This quote by an unnamed author bothers me, “I wish the word 'editing' had never been invented; 'editing' implies correcting, and it's not.” It shows the sometimes antagonistic relationship between writer and editor, and that shouldn't be. An editor's job isn't to correct writing; it's to improve it.

My favorite editing quotation, though, may not have been written about writing.

"My life needs editing," comedian Mort Sahl once said with tongue in cheek.

Or maybe he was serious.

Contact: I can be reached at or Also, my Twitter handle is EDITORatWORK.

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