My Andy Warhol Approach to . . . editing.

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I enjoy documentaries about famous dead people. 

In a PBS-aired documentary about Andy Warhol, the narrator shared a story about Warhol coaching one of his protégés on the subject of self-judging one’s work. 

The advice he gave the younger artist was profound, and it surprised me that such an unconventional individual as Warhol was—could–or would offer something so “fatherly” sounding. 

This isn’t verbatim, but in essence, Warhol told his protégé: “Just do the work, and do a lot of it. It won’t be up to you to decide if your work is any good. That is for somebody else to decide.” 

It’s a fairly liberating notion. 

While art and beauty are in the eye of the beholder and visual artists have a different method of attack they work from as compared to what a writer does, I believe  we writers need to take Warhol’s advice one step further. 

I mean, if an artist doesn’t quite get the hue of the western sky right, the average person may dismiss it to style or artist’s choice, but let a reader pick up a book or a story and find uneven sentences, misspelled words, missing punctuation, and we can have our work tossed in the trash and labeled amateurish by prospective editors, literary agents and publishers. 

For sure, we writers should do a lot of writing. A lot. It’s good practice. And, yes, we should not get caught up in that “is-my-stuff-good-enough?” self-destruct mechanism, but we have another level to add to our work that the visual artists do not. 

We have three serious editing phases to go through before our works sprout wings and leave home. 

Do you know the three basic components of a solid edit? 

The mechanical edit. 

  • Is your capitalization consistent throughout your piece?
  • How about your hyphenation?
  • Are your verbs and subjects in agreement?
  • Are your beginning and ending quotation marks and parentheses clear and appropriate?
  • Do you get carried away with ellipsis (like I do)?
  • Are your numbers represented as figures or written out? (Do you know the difference?)
  • How’s your paragraph length looking in the overall document? Do you have a two-page paragraph where the reader’s eye never gets a break?
  • How about your spelling? Spell-check does not sitteth at the right hand of God the Father. I can’t imagine it ever will from what I’ve observed.

The substantive edit.

This type of edit is helpful in the rewriting and reorganization process of your project.

  • Can you stand far enough away from your work to recognize a better, maybe more effective or alternative way to present your subject or story?
  • Have you stayed in the voice/tone of the overall piece, or did you switch gears halfway through the novel—at the risk of losing your reader?
  • Will you catch your mixed metaphors?
  • Will you recognize misplaced modifiers?
  • How about remote antecedents? (You know what these are?)

The copyediting edit.

  • Is the overall formatting presentation and appearance of your writing project neat and easy on the eyes?
  • Have you been consistent in the spacing between sentences and narrative pauses? Transitional paragraphs?
  • Have you checked for proper and clean pagination throughout?
  • Have you allowed widows and orphans to exist in your document?

Qualified and merciless editing won’t kill us, and our project will be visually and grammatically beautiful. 

Now, if they don’t like us—well, meh. Then you’ll need to remember Mr. Warhol’s words.

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We simply have to try on a lot of words to see what we like. – R’becca G.

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6 thoughts on “My Andy Warhol Approach to . . . editing.

  1. Nice post, and nice use of the concept from Andy Warhol. One of the points I take from it is the encouragement for writers to write, write, write. When I work with students who want to be writers, one of the main points I make to them is how important it is to regularly write. Several of my classes require students to maintain blogs, and some struggle with coming up with material–but for non-fiction writers, journalists, a sense of imagination is still key. A writer must look beyond the ordinary and see what’s possible, and a writer’s mind never runs out of material. To paraphrase the blogger who writes the “Broadside” blog at http://broadsideblog.wordpress.com/: Writers need to remember that bus drivers never suffer from bus driver’s block.

    • Thank you, GardenJoe.

      Well said, but that’s not surprising considering your experience and profession.
      I’ve had people ask me when, if ever, I shut my mind off, and I tell them I don’t–and must not, or I’ll be in big trouble. Everything we breathe, see, hear provides us fodder for the next writing session. We can’t afford to live superficially, or we are dead. Everything and anything from first tomatoes to speeding tickets to the death of something we loved will feed us in some way.

      I’m going to look into the Broadside blog–so thank you for that, too.

      R’becca G.

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