Monday, September 9, 2013

Favorite Books on Editing: Mine and Yours

"I have been correcting the proofs of my poems. In the morning, after hard work, I took a comma out of one sentence…. In the afternoon I put it back again.”                – Oscar Wilde

I’ve been preparing material for a workshop on editing for the Southern California Writers' Conference (9/20/13-9/22/13, space still available here), and so, I’ve been doing some thinking and reading on the topic. Over the summer I finally got around to reading Stephen King’s On Writing, a well-respected if untraditional primer which is every bit as good as you’ve heard, and I've been rereading some favorites. All of this poking into the workman side of writing coincided with the arrival of a critique of one of my novels from a respected author; in a general sense, then, editing has been on my mind and recently, how it may or may not need to be applied to the work in question.

Editing is an acquired taste. Beginning writers are appalled by the very thought of it but after time, you learn to welcome and even look forward to the process. Your pedantic, word-loving self should appreciate taking a fine tooth comb to syntactic constructions and your English-major-study-of fiction self might relish all the talk of character development and thematic progression. Who you need to check at the door is your sensitive self. The one who tears up over lovely phrases and heartfelt projections, the one who clings, white-knuckled, to a side story that has nothing whatever to do with the central story because of time spent on research or deep thought or self-congratulation.

This is where workshops, books and advice come in handy. It helps to know we’re all in this together, doesn’t it? One thing I’d love to do in the workshop is share a list of resources. A few of my go-to guides are:

Revising Fiction by David Madden
The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White
Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster

...and several more, which you will have to attend the workshop to hear! I'd love if my fellow writers could comment and share your favorite books on writing and/or editing. What books have helped you along the way?  Is there a single guide on writing you couldn't live without? 


  1. One I like, which I must get back to is: 'Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft' by Janet Burroway.

  2. 'How Not to Write a Novel' by Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark - points out the error of your ways (or the way of your errors) by exaggerated examples. Great fun to read over a coffee :)

  3. Stephen King's "On Writing" will always be my favourite, though it's about writing more than editing. I love its honesty.


"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka