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Transcript for Episode 1.30

Writing Excuses Episode 30: Talking Revision with Moshe Feder


Key points: different authors take different strokes. Editorial reading involves some details, but mostly a larger level. Editors help writers make manuscripts better.

Brandon: Talking about revision. How do you approach helping an author revise a book?

  • Moshe: part of this depends on the author. Some authors accept help gratefully and graciously; some are suspicious and protective of their work in a way that’s almost pathological. Some have been around so long that they don’t think they need help. But let’s talk about new authors with two or three books. It’s often a multistage process. I don’t always see things the first time.
  • Moshe: When I’m reading editorially, I usually work on two levels. One is the fine detail — is the prose transparent, are the metaphors correct, does it convey what I think the author wants to convey? This is the line editing level. At the same time, I’m looking at a larger, more gestalt level. Is the pacing correct? Is the character behavior consistent? Is it believable? Are the various events consistent? Are there contradictions?

Brandon: 99% of the time when Moshe tells me about something, I think I should’ve thought of that. It’s a dialogue, we’re not fixing the novel, we’re making a manuscript better, which are two different things to me.

  • Moshe: it’s a question of mutual understanding. Intuition.
  • Brandon: usually when an author is resisting, there’s something that they aren’t quite understanding. [skipped discussion of Brandon not quite seeing why jokes by a character that broke the background weren’t right, and the difficulty Moshe had telling him that they were lame]
  • Moshe: half of the editorial process is communication. Not just recognizing problems and how to fix them, but conveying, explaining, convincing the author
  • Howard: I want to emphasize — Moshe said you don’t know how to be a writer, and editors are different.
  • Moshe: the analogy I think of is that doctors can fix a heart, but can’t pump blood for you. We can do the operation, but can’t make it run
  • Moshe: telling stories is a unique skill. You know how to grab people by the throat and not let go.

Brandon: Dan, what impressions do you have of working with Moshe?

  • Dan: writing and editing are different skills. The writer is buried in work, needs the editor.
  • Moshe: the editor knows how to manipulate a writer’s brain
  • Moshe: writers cannot be objective

Brandon: I hear people talking about cutting out the middleman. But you can’t get rid of publishers and editors. We need the guardian angel.

Howard’s last word: Sturgeon’s Law says that 90% of everything is crap, and the Internet has proved that he was an optimist.

Current Mood: Summarizing
Current Music: Don’t Think I Don’t Think, Darius Rucker