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The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself

3.89  ·  Rating Details  ·  373 Ratings  ·  88 Reviews
The Artful Edit explores the many-faceted and often misunderstood—or simply overlooked—art of editing. The book brims with examples, quotes, and case studies, including an illuminating discussion of Max Perkins's editorial collaboration with F. Scott Fitzgerald on The Great Gatsby. Susan Bell, a veteran book editor, also offers strategic tips and exercises for self-editing ...more
ebook, 240 pages
Published August 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published August 13th 2007)
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Printable Tire
Apr 01, 2011 Printable Tire rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is an endless glut of books which propose to help one unleash one's Muse (yuck), write mystery novels, bestsellers, a killer screenplay, slam poetry and the like: in short, there is a stupefying amount of books that propose to teach, or guide one, into the writing process. Most of them are awful but even the awfullest ones can be inspiring: like your run-of-the-mill self-help book, they can achieve brilliance by inspiring the brain to enter a new cycle of introspection, exciting synapses i ...more
Monica Wesolowska
This is the best book I've ever read on revision. Rather than increase the mystery and angst of revision, Susan Bell treats revision as a tool you can use on yourself---with the same compassion, patience and respect you would give a client. What a revelation for me. Forget Faulkner's dictum "Kill your darlings." I'll take Bell's proscription instead. After analyzing the way that the late, great Maxwell Perkins edited F. Scott Fitzgerald, she writes: "Perkins's treatment begs the question: Couldn ...more
Sep 13, 2009 jordan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Potential readers of Susan Bell's "The Artful Edit" would do well to consider first what this book is, and what it is not. This is not a replacement for the ubiquitous and essential "Elements of Style" which should be on every English speaker's desk. No, where that fine work was written for everyone who wishes to write, Bell's work, I would dare to presume, is meant for writers. And for those people, her pages sing.

Bell offers a considered meditation on various questions related to editing - wha
Drawn out and offering less "tips & tricks" to self-editing than I expected. But overall I guess that this is a good introduction to editing for new writers.
Jun 21, 2009 Kelly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, writing
Full review at

Summary: An editor offers advice on how to edit your own writing.

Review: I loved the first half of this book for its practicality, but as it got less practical I lost interest. Example:

* Loved learning about how The Great Gatsby changed during the editing process
* Didn’t love reading about the entire history of book editing

One little gem was the author’s tips for gaining perspective on your work—techniques like editing in a different envir
Jenny Maloney
Apr 07, 2011 Jenny Maloney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing, editing, 2011
Awesome, awesome, awesome! You know how sometimes it takes lots of repetition for a lesson to sink in? (I guess that's the theory behind multiplication tables in third grade....) Well, sometimes I think that we just need a really good teacher to put the lesson in terms that can be understood.

That teacher is Susan Bell. She's a professional editor, and not a bad writer either. =)

Bell breaks down the editing process in order to show writers how they can self edit. And this day in age, with the ton
Helpful but--dare I say it?--I think this book needs a good edit. The last chapter is a history of editing. The only reason I can see why it doesn't start the book is because the author didn't want to have to write a conclusion. The book did change my perspective on editing, as was its goal, however. The best part of the book was Chapter 2, in which the author instructs the reader on how to macro-edit using the example of Fitzgerald's and Perkins' collaboration on The Great Gatsby as an example. ...more
April Brown
What ages would I recommend it too? Fourteen to twenty-one.

Length? A few weeks.

Characters? No characters.

Setting? Writring.

Written approximately? 2007.

Does the story leave questions in the readers mind? Yes. Not in a good way.

Any issues the author (or a more recent publisher) should cover? Yes. Please provide a defined terms section.

Short storyline: A $5.00 word romp through the edit process. Do not attempt to read without a writer's dictionary. Or a computer close at hand to look them up.

Decadent Kane
Well written, well thought out, and a lot of good but firm advice. Just what i was looking for. Susan really talks mainly about Micro and macro editing, the difference, gives a couple checklists for writers to really think about as they revise as well as plenty of helpful examples using The great Gatsby- which i found very entertaining and informative as a writer and editor.

I think this would be better suited for writers who have some revision/editing experience already, even beginning writers c
Christoph Paul
Should Have Been A 5...

The writer of this book gets a 5 but the publisher gets a 3, though it should be a 2. The actual editing and advice is excellent and I will use it, but I felt so annoyed and angry at the fluff they threw in the back to give it a certain amount of a word count. Susan Bell is awesome and if that is all she had to say on editing that would have been fine, charge a little less and let it be a smaller book, but it felt like the publisher needed some kind of filler to charge mor
Mar 20, 2014 Mati rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a book I read with my Journalism class in college, but I found it was actually helpful just as a general guide to editing. Some chapters were more useful than others, but I think it also depends on what you're looking to get out of this book. As an author, the only real advice I've heard is you can't edit yourself; there are always going to be things you need a second pair of eyes for. But this book was unique because it showed what you COULD do.

Some places got a bit wordy. While I enj
Oct 17, 2014 Grete rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Five stars for the first three chapters. They're gems: polished prose, useful advice, and an ongoing account of how Fitzgerald edited _The Great Gatsby_, lending continuity to what is otherwise (by necessity) a big list of suggested editing approaches. The book would be better off if it ended there - the quality of the writing suffers somewhat after that, and the book I had struggled to put down at bedtime became tedious. The interviews about self-editing with various creative types were only mi ...more
Daniel Jr.
May 30, 2012 Daniel Jr. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Helpful and different. I will definitely teach from it, esp. for upper level undergrads.
Jan 31, 2015 Kris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great tid-bits for writers and editors alike. Though this is geared toward helping writers edit their own fictional stories, there is useful information in here for anyone dealing with any type of writing. Felt a little off at some points, but I'd still recommend it.

The reason I didn't give it five stars was because it felt a bit long-winded and scattered, at certain times. The chapters are very long, and broken up into different pieces that are not always connected. Bell seems to get really exc
May 30, 2014 Alison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book gave a lot of strategies and techniques for "self-editing", or perhaps a more traditional term, "revising". Bell gives a lot of practical advice for 'getting in the mood to revise - various techniques and tips to give yourself objectivity during your self-edit. The second and third chapters go a step further, giving strategies best suited toward large and small scale edits. There are nice check lists of various aspects to look at in each of these sections. Structure and pacing at the m ...more
Bell suggests reading one's own work (or any work you are editing) alternatively with a macro-lens and micro-lens, and she asserts that these two types of methodical reading cannot be done simultaneously; that a too-methodical reading "will force a text into categories too cleanly divided. Character here, leitmotiv there. Theme here, continuity of style there. But narrative parts work in tandem. [...] Try too hard to separate the parts and you destroy the whole." I found this advice interesting, ...more
quick first impressions on two elements of this book. first, as a writer/editor professionally, the practical tips bell provides in the earlier chapters both make me feel sane and provide me with new ideas. as the writer who leaves the apartment to visit the coffee shop to go for a walk before settling in the library, i thoroughly believe in the 'distance' she advocates - among other tips. What I find wonderful about them is that i've never seen the practice of editing so formally (yet informall ...more
Lynne Favreau
Mar 16, 2012 Lynne Favreau rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Susan Bell is an editor, author, and teacher, who developed a seminar on self-editing for a graduate program on which this book is based.

It flows along easily, her writing is conversational as if you are in her class and she is speaking right to you. I find the tone comforting since the subject is so intimidating. Having to self-edit when I know so little of the rules is daunting.

Bloom’s stories of working with writers and the editing process, and that of a few famous writer’s and their editor
Oz Barton
Jul 07, 2013 Oz Barton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I first realized — with oppressive dread — that the author intended to use The Great Gatsby as her primary example throughout not just a chapter but the entire book, I threw the thing across the room. Literally.

However, despite my abiding hatred for Gatsby and my prejudice against drawing examples from a single source, I picked up this book again, and powered through. And I'm very, very glad I did.

As it turns out, her loyalty to Gatsby doesn't dilute her points the way I expected it to. Ne
Jul 27, 2013 Christine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read two other books that claimed to be about editing and revising. While they did provide some helpful tips, after reading, I felt they focused more on what to do while crafting a first draft so that one had less work to do during the editing stage.

That does nothing to help the author that has already completed a first draft.

On the other hand, Susan Bell's book, The Artful Edit, has provided me great insights into what I can do while editing to improve my prose. This book isn't about gra
May 08, 2013 Bill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing-how-to
Editing as Creative as Writing

Bell, Susan (2007). The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself. New York: W.W. Norton.

Bell has been a book editor for decades and in this well-written (and edited) volume, provides instruction and explanation about the art of editing, for writers who want (need) to edit their own manuscripts, and that would include all writers.

She starts with the big picture, how to evaluate whether your story hangs together, whether you have a structure that works, whethe
James Curcio
Aug 24, 2014 James Curcio rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'd say this is one of the most useful guides on the subject I've encountered -- because it isn't a guide. With a few minor exceptions, it isn't some cutesy list of do's and dont's, because those things quite simply don't exist.

Every author, and every text, has its own demands, and the goal of writing (in the production stage anyway) is to satisfy those specific demands.

But to satisfy them you must first identify them, and in this is one of the greatest challenges. What IS "good" or "bad" writ
Demisty Bellinger
Jun 18, 2012 Demisty Bellinger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
If you attended a good MFA program, or a good Ph.D. in creative writing (or in any field with intensive and extensive writing), Bell's The Artful Edit will serve as a great refresher, or maybe a supplementary text with one or two more ideas/techniques you can add to your self-editing toolbox. But if you are a novice at editing, self or otherwise, I can see this being an important book to read.

That being said, this text can be used in an advanced, undergraduate writing class. Bell offers, as wel
Sep 17, 2015 Alexis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Recommended to me by a writer friend. Had some good tips on editing yourself. I found the concept of leitmotiv to be useful. You probably wouldn't get a lot out of this book if you weren't familiar with The Great Gatsby, as it is referred to extensively and used as an example.

The author also includes interviews and conversations with writers and editors about editing.

I found this to be quite useful, informative and reassuring. (I already have some knowledge about how to edit myself. :)
Dec 26, 2015 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Generations of naive writers who feel that somehow if they can meet their Max Perkins, then they'll become Tom Wolfe.

Become Tom Wolfe yourself!" (Gerald Howard quoted in the book)

Susan Bell's book is part how-to, part dedication to the editorial profession and it worked beautifully! The book was clear and helpful, without the dryness of an instruction manual. It feels like it was written by an editor who has dealt with her share of bad, or not-quite-there writing and wants writers to just "ge
Susan Bell's The Artful Edit is a terrific resource for writers. Her main goal is to teach authors how to self-edit, and she gives plenty of practical advice, such as "Go back and create a motive for any character who feels flat" and "Certain words have good posture, others slump. Present participles, or what I call 'ing' words, tend to slump." She also includes checklists and a page showing useful copyediting notations. The best part, though is her in-depth analysis of The Great Gatsby. Fitzger ...more
Mar 21, 2014 Tyler rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Am I one of the few people who doesn't like Gatsby? The author spends way too much time critiquing "the Great Gatsby."
I enjoyed Renni Browne and James Scott Bell's books on Self Editing much better. This one was filled with too much fluff for me. Wish I could give it more, but I can't in good faith.
Nov 21, 2014 Amelia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
I got more out of this book than anything else I've read on self-editing. At least, that's what it feels like at the moment. I like the way it was structured, spiraling down from process to macro-edits to micro-edits. The author illustrated her points by using The Great Gatsby as an example throughout the first three chapters, which was very helpful.

I skimmed the last two chapters, the "Master Class" and the history of editing, because I was anxious to get back to work, to apply some of what I'd
Suzanne Rigdon
This was an excellent and quick read. I dug into it before revising my first novel and it left me with some solid goals and feeling inspired. There's also some great stories about F. Scott Fitzgerald and his editor in here that are worth the read. I'd highly recommend it.
Feb 11, 2015 A. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting and very helpful read. I appreciated that Bell provided numerous techniques for self-editing, and that she examined both macro and micro editing. My strength is more in micro editing, so advice on things to examine for macro editing was really helpful. It would have been nice if there had been a bit more diversity in the examples used--her primary example for most types of editing was "The Great Gatsby." This choice offered continuity throughout the book, but it also limi ...more
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“An editor doesn't just read, he reads well, and reading well is a creative, powerful act. The ancients knew this and it frightened them. Mesopotamian society, for instance, did not want great reading from its scribes, only great writing. Scribes had to submit to a curious ruse: they had to downplay their reading skills lest they antagonize their employer. The Attic poet Menander wrote: "those who can read see twice as well." Ancient autocrats did not want their subjects to see that well. Order relied on obedience, not knowledge and reflection. So even though he was paid to read as much as write messages, the scribe's title cautiously referred to writing alone (scribere = "to write"); and the symbol for Nisaba, the Mesopotamian goddess of scribes, was not a tablet but a stylus. In his excellent book A History of Reading, Alberto Manguel writes, "It was safer for a scribe to be seen not as one who interpreted information, but who merely recorded it for the public good."
In their fear of readers, ancients understood something we have forgotten about the magnitude of readership. Reading breeds the power of an independent mind. When we read well, we are thinking hard for ourselves—this is the essence of freedom. It is also the essence of editing. Editors are scribes liberated to not simply record and disseminate information, but think hard about it, interpret, and ultimately, influence it.”
“There is a saying: Genius is perseverance. While genius does not consist entirely of editing, without editing it's pretty useless.” 2 likes
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