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


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. 


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.

Picasso on: Finding the art.

"The Illusion vs. The Reality"


One of my Facebook friends posted this graphic on her Wall a couple of weeks ago. She said this “felt like her life.” I don’t know who created this bit of wisdom, but I think them most clever. 

Several local actors/players and I have been rehearsing for a historical play we will present in two weeks. I signed on for the narrator part because I had no delusions that I was an actress. 

Well, guess what? This narrator has to throw in a wee bit of acting gestures and movement. “But I’m not an actor; I’m the narrator!” didn’t get me very far with the director. 

‘Everyone has to start somewhere . . .’ 

I have never been one to say, “I want to be an actor because they have such an easy job.” 

There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the average citizen has no idea how hard actors practice and work to convince, scare or amuse us. To be able to tell us something with a simple shift in their eyes, or a casual hand movement that suggests approaching danger—and make it look natural. Until you try it, you won’t realize it isn’t easy. 

The same applies to writing. We pick up a novel read the first few pages and we’re in the Appalachian Mountains, or overlooking the harbor off the docks in New York or feeling the terror in fresh blood running because of a writer’s well-chosen, well-timed wording. 

Another friend of mine wrote the following to me as we discussed editing challenges I’m experiencing with cutting/keeping work on a manuscript: 

“When I was in Barcelona and Paris this year, I went to quite a few art museums. One of the displays that fascinated me was a Picasso one where they showed a very detailed painting, and then showed Picasso’s experimentation based on that painting. 

This display had about a dozen associated paintings where he was trying to select the basic elements of the picture without the detail. I hadn’t really realized that his modern art was more of a minimalist view of the world – trying to answer the question ‘What are the basic elements that have to be in the painting and have it still tell the story?’”  

An editor reminded me that I’d have to kill some of my darlings. I knew it was true and I knew it would be hard.

It is. 

Writing well.

Anything looks easy–until you give it a serious try.

(Thanks to friends Melinda and Sandi for the astute graphic and thoughts this week.)