The editing process: to kill your soul, or not to kill your soul–

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Talent and self-confidence do not necessarily keep each other company, and there are plenty of biographical stories in libraries and cyberspace about famous authors, musicians, etc. that provide backing for this statement. 

World-famous Austria-born composer Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) is such an example. 

My husband and I listened to pre-concert notes presented by the conductor at a recent symphonic presentation of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major (for those of you deep into long-dead composers). 

We both felt sadness at the picture it painted of Bruckner’s life. Born of brilliant precocity, but from a country bumpkin background, he had received excellent musical training and was an outstanding organist, who composed expansive orchestral works. 

Many composers revised their work after premieres, upon the advice—or interference—from their colleagues, but Bruckner’s insecure personality took this to extremes. He continuously revised his scores at the demand of conductors, publishers, other musicians and the music critics. As a result, most of his symphonies exist in so many versions that it is often difficult for symphonies to decide which version to perform. 

His sense of inferiority and his social gracelessness were legendary, his clothing a course of jokes and cartoons at the time.

The man even denigrated himself to the point of falling to his knees the first time he met Richard Wagner, who he worshipped—and this just made things worse for him as it pitted him between the Wagner “groupies” of the day and the Brahms “groupies.” 

He suffered bouts of severe depression fighting his futile battle for recognition and trying to get his music performed, was extremely deferential to intellectual and professional authority, and eventually suffered a nervous breakdown. 

He began composing his Fifth Symphony amidst this entire emotional, not to mention financial, difficulty in 1875. Finished it in 1876. Revised it in 1877 and again in 1878. Its garbled, re-revised form  premiered in 1894 and was severely emasculated by the conductor that night–one of Bruckner’s students. Bruckner was too ill by then to attend. It took another 38 years before the original 1878 version was performed in 1932 and finally published in 1935. 

Ouch. 

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 consists of 4 movements and is played straight through which lasts around 75-minutes. 

So—at the end of the performance that evening my husband commented that he enjoyed the presentation overall, but that some of the beginnings, or transitions, seemed rather disjointed, or disconnected to the rest of the music once it was underway, and that he didn’t care for this. He felt it interfered with the overall flow. 

My immediate thought was: Was it all the revising and letting-in-the-head-of-the-demons called conductors, publishers, other musicians and music critics that contributed to this? 

I have a $20.00 bill in my purse that says it was. 

I’m in that serious level of novel editing right now; the one where I have to sort through all the comments and suggestions that are before me. The people they came from are experienced, but as I take my time pouring over the suggestions, the quote from Neil Gaiman keeps popping into my head: 

When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right.

When they tell you how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. 

The critical formatting and grammar edits are easy. Whether to cut certain words, or that whole paragraph—or those 3 pages—is more challenging. 

This is where I believe it’s important to take your time to remember who you are, and what it is you wanted to say.

If you aren’t careful, you could edit your voice out of your own work.

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9 thoughts on “The editing process: to kill your soul, or not to kill your soul–

  1. Even today, this deeply meditative music poses a challenge to listeners. The nine symphonies, most spanning an hour in length, gradually unfold over broad landscapes. Bruckner’s symphonies begin quietly and take the shape of theme and variation; an opening theme is smoothly spun, which initiates a synthesis to take place over the entire work. The music is a reflection of Bruckner’s Catholic faith, often taking on a medieval quality and reminiscent of church modes. Moments of high drama, quiet ponderousness, and absolute silence lie side by side, forming a coherent whole beyond the limits of earthly reality. A Bruckner symphony does not refer to concrete images, nor does it undergo a familiar style of “development”; it simply exists as a vast, autonomous body of sound. Bruckner’s works were outlandish to the Viennese public, but helped propel European music into the era of Mahler, Strauss, and Debussy by further broadening the limits of symphonic time and space.

  2. I learned at the knee of a master: Lyle Ernst editor. He taught me that when you pass on suggestions (hopefully solicited and not just thrown at an author} that you always remind them that “it is their book, their final decision, and that the choice is always theirs.” He graciously helped me make the decision to independently publish after so many publishers could not take my expertiese seriously (apparently). My voice and message were more important than selling volumes: I knew my target group and I wrote for them. R’becca: “Be the voice” and be sure it is “your voice”. Can’t wait until you finish that novel girl.

    • Glad to see you out here. If I understand this correctly, you like animals, writing, chocolate and tea.
      You sound like my idea of the perfect candidate for the presidency . . . oh, no–wait: I mean to write and run a publishing company! [What was I thinking?—;-)]

      • Ha! There /are/ some similarities, but to keep my ratings hovering around 50%, I’ll abstain from stating what those might be. 🙂

        Take care.

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