08 July 2015

Writing Book Review: The Artful Edit by Susan Bell

The Artful Edit: On the practice of editing yourself ©2007 by Susan Bell

To date, the best book on editing, and maybe the art and craft of writing, I’ve read.

  • Not pedantic – stresses that each writer will need to find what works for her
  • Lays out techniques, provides examples and studies
  • Discusses general editing concepts (macro vs micro editing) and offers a “Diagnostic Checklist” for each

  • Some writers will find Bell’s discussion too vague desiring more tips, tricks, and secrets than this generalized discussion of what one should be thinking about when self-editing (or even editing another’s work)
  • The final two (of five) chapters are interesting though the least useful

Bottom Line:
  • Absolutely worth checking out from your local library
  • Consider purchasing a copy, new for under $15 or used for under $5

Bell’s style is approachable and relatable: it’s easy for a writer/reader to say, “Okay, this is what I need to be doing when I’m editing my own work.” She also goes a step farther and suggests that if one method isn’t working, here are (about) eleven others to try. And while the final two chapters provided less ‘usable’ insight for me, others will find value in a look at how a sound editor or other writers work through the editing process.

The most important take away is writers need a systematic approach to viewing their work and engaging in the editing process. Unless one is willing to pay for extensive editing – almost wrote expensive editing, a useful Freudian slip – authors must edit their own work well. There is too much competition for space for that short story and novel. Even if the publisher is still paying for editorial services, it is likely that much less attention will be given your piece than in the past. [Interesting note: this is the gist of the final chapter, so maybe it’s more ‘useful’ than I’ve lead you to believe.] Simply put: if they like your work but it needs extensive editing before publication it’s just that much easier to give it a pass. Learning how to self-edit is as crucial as knowing when to show and when to tell.

So what’s the difference between a macro and micro edit you asked? A macro-edit is the big picture. In Bell’s words: “Intention, Character, Structure, Foreshadowing, Theme, and Continuity of tone. A micro-edit looks at the detail: “Language, Repetition, Redundancy, Clarity, Authenticity, Continuity, Show and tell, Beginnings/endings/transitions”. That’s an outline of the meaty middle of her text. Her first chapter, “Gaining Perspective” offers eleven methods one can use – mix and match to suit your needs and tastes.