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The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself
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The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  627 ratings  ·  131 reviews
The Artful Edit explores the many-faceted and often misunderstood—or simply overlooked—art of editing. Brimming with examples, quotes, and case studies that include an illuminating discussion of Max Perkins's editorial collaboration with F. Scott Fitzgerald on The Great Gatsby, this book proves how fundamental editing is to great writing. Bell also offers strategic tips an ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published August 17th 2007 by W. W. Norton Company (first published August 13th 2007)
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3.97  · 
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 ·  627 ratings  ·  131 reviews

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Printable Tire
Apr 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
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
E. Mellyberry
Aug 24, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: got-a-copy
Not very useful. All basic info we already know :(
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
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.
Chris Norbury
Mar 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Worth reading if only for the fascinating accounts of the writer-editor relationship between F.Scott Fitzgerald and Max Perkins. Really got into the back and forth of the editing process and illustrated how a suggestion phrased the right way resulted in a superior finished sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, even an entire book.

Specific self-editing techniques weren't discussed so much as the idea of constructing the editing process, big-picture editing vs. micro-editing.

Interesting but perhaps
J.A. Sullivan
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you're a writer, you need to read 'The Artful Edit'. It's clearly written and contains many concrete examples. These lessons not only strengthened my editorial muscles, but also refined my reading skills. Overall, I feel this information will also help improve my own writing.

Much of the book uses 'The Great Gatsby' as a model. At first I was leary, because I had never read Fitzgerald's novel (yes, for shame!), but Susan Bell selects passages with great precision, and disects the text in such
Mo Tahmasbi
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As I was reading it, I was feeling an urge to sit down and write.
An essential if you are interested in writing; no matter what type, but especially ficiton.
Mar 20, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011-reads
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
Jenny Maloney
Apr 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 21, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Christoph Paul
Mar 27, 2014 rated it liked it
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
John Roche
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The gist: A serious writer should be a serious reader of his or her own work.

Susan Bell's editing wisdom is well trenched and her respect for her reader's taste is refreshing. The essays she provide at the end of each chapter are pertinent and contribute another professional's perspective. Her excercises sharpen and challenge our editing ability, and her editing check lists should be copied and committed to heart.

This isn't a rehashing of Strunk and White, nor is it a TomTom for writers. It's a
Jun 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
A graceful commentary on the art of editing. She used lots of concrete examples, particularly from The Great Gatsby. I also liked her discussion of the history and evolution of editing, citing examples from well-known editors.
Daniel Jr.
Mar 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Helpful and different. I will definitely teach from it, esp. for upper level undergrads.
William Adams
May 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-how-to
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.

Bell starts with the big picture, how to evaluate whether your story hangs together, whether you have a structure that works, whether your manuscript accomplishes what you had intended for it. Then she covers micro-editing, or line-editing, with emphasis on selecting the right words, cutting redundancie
Stanley Trice
May 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
Some of the chapters in this book are useful to anyone who writes. As an example, the first chapter explains the various methods writers can use to gain a different perspective to what they wrote. Such as printing out their work, changing fonts, or reading the work aloud.

Other chapters were somewhat helpful, such as the chapter on micro-editing. However, some chapters were not helpful such as master class where different artists talk about how they edit. They included a film and sound editor, ph
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Loved the chapters on micro- and macro-editing. Bell's analysis of The Great Gatsby is insightful and engaging. The rest of the book didn't captivate me as much, but it offered a valuable glimpse into the intricacies of the editing process. I'm not sure whether I took to the writing style; it's very finely wrought and distilled but can oddly feel a bit mechanical at times.

Two quotes that I particularly liked:

"Our true voice—that is, one unalloyed by mimicry or pretension—is what gives our writin

Nicholas Vinson
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
As an aspiring writer, I have many short comings. One of these is commas. Another of these is logical structure. I'm bad at that one, especially. and the last one is revision. I am an egomaniac and often think my first effort is the best possible, so it can be hard to see how to re approach a project. This book gives people like me good steps to follow for revision. Unlike other books about books, this book isn't too rigid on its storytelling tips and uses plenty of thorough examples. I am bad a ...more
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: writers, editors
Recommended to Kemlo by: Jennie
Shelves: nonfiction, writing
Highly recommend this book to anyone interested in becoming a better writer or editor. The first section, "Gaining Perspective," is especially worth reading. Section II ("The Big Picture: Macro-Editing") and Section III ("The Details: Micro-Editing") are also excellent. The only reason I didn't give the book 5 stars is because the last two sections weren't as helpful or interesting to me (although if you like lengthy excerpts as examples, or if you want to know more about the history of editing, ...more
Raimey Gallant
Jan 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Through visiting passages from The Great Gatsby at various stages of edit (as well as the back-and-forth between Fitzgerald and his editor Perkins), and through first- and second-hand accounts of editing processes from other known authors, the moral of this story is there are many ways to edit and self-edit, and authors, if they want, can use this book to shop for the one(s) best suited to them. Bell also breaks down a list each for macro- and micro-editing concerns. I caution taking her advice ...more
Kitri Miller
Apr 28, 2019 rated it liked it
There is definitely some good advice in here for editing, but it seems that it is about 50% learning how to write well in the first place, and 50% learning how to edit/knowing when and who you can have look at your stuff with fresh eyes. It had some good advice, but not really what I was looking for in a book at learning how to edit your own stuff. It seemed very beginner and vague for the most part. The best part of it was that you should get to know what style of editing you should get into fo ...more
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Susan Bell breaks down the two different kinds of edits, the macro (big picture) and micro (small details) and how to apply those to a work of writing. In this book, she gives examples of famous editors and how they worked with writers, as well as a series of interviews with well-known writers who discuss which type of editing methods work best for them. A must-read for anyone looking to improve their editing skills.
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-interest
Intuitive insights into an editor's world that will help any writer self-edit their own work. The examples were precise and followed with explanations that made sense and I could clearly see where I've fallen into the same missteps but didn't know how to change.

I highly recommend this book to all writers, the process is hard enough but with her advice, it will save so much time and heartache in the editing process.
Stacey Kondla
Jan 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
I appreciate what this book says. It is a slightly more challenging read as the text does not draw you along. It was also kind of a case study of the relationship and editing procedure between Perkins and Fitzgerald with regards to The Great Gatsby. I did pick up some worthwhile nuggets to pack up and take along with me and likes the macro and micro checklists.
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, this was handy! I recently finished the first draft of my memoir, and I must say that I am a bit daunted by the idea of editing nearly 600 pages/over 200,000 words. Bell breaks down self-editing in a way that makes it seem completely manageable: with checklists. (It's like she knows that's how I function.) Let's see how much I like it after I implement the advice!
Jake McAtee
Jul 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Overall, a really helpful book on the art of self editing. Bell used F. Scott Fitzgerald as the supreme example of the "self-editor." I was really impressed with his edits as she compared and contrasted his galley's with the published "Great Gatsby."
Handy guide to edit your creative writing .
Kelsey Gaus
May 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very helpful for anyone working on a book
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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.” 3 likes
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