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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

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  542 Ratings  ·  116 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
Paperback, 230 pages
Published August 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton Company (first published August 13th 2007)
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Printable Tire
Apr 01, 2011 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 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
E. Mellyberry
Aug 24, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: got-a-copy
Not very useful. All basic info we already know :(
Jan 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
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
Jenny Maloney
Apr 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: editing
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  ·  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
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
Jun 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
Helpful and different. I will definitely teach from it, esp. for upper level undergrads.
Bill Adams111
May 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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 .
Whitney Archer
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
A very useful book for myself and an editing class I just taught. Recommend.
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vvvvvvery nice.
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book to help me think more about revising my work in a systematic way, and it definitely helped me! Overall, this is a great resource and a good refresher for best practices in editing fiction. I especially liked the checklist pages and the examples of artists (both writers and other creatives) who edit.
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book and rated it highly. It's more of an inspirational book about the art of editing rather than a how to manual so I feel I should warn readers of that even though I gave it such a high rating.
Lynne Favreau
Mar 16, 2012 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
Mar 20, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
May 08, 2013 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
Jul 22, 2013 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
Oz Barton
Jun 30, 2013 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
Sep 07, 2014 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
Feb 16, 2014 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
James Curcio
Sep 12, 2013 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
Emrullah Koyunlu
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
A book that precisely gives what it offers, nothing more, nothing less. In any other subject, such a book wouldn't earn more than 3 stars, but I prefer to do an exception since it's about writing. After all, there is precious few books about the subject that tries to stay constrained on a specific area, especially one unglamorous as editing.
The structure of the book was clear. Starting from concept edit, moving to line edit, and finishing with the history of editing. Overall, I only recommend i
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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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