Join 3,438 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


To Rely on the Editor
December 29, 2008 5:56 PM   Subscribe

Looking for examples in literature where the author had to rely on his/her editor rather heavily. I'm thinking of instances where the authors were capable of spinning a good yarn, yet they had trouble with grammar, structure, punctuation, etc.

Any and all related examples would be great. And, thank you.
posted by captainsohler to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
So you're looking for examples of heavy copyediting as opposed to substantive editing?
posted by meerkatty at 6:07 PM on December 29, 2008


Not sure if this is exactly what you're thinking of, but Max Perkins virtually rewrote Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel.
posted by Rangeboy at 6:08 PM on December 29, 2008


It is said by some that Vladimir Nabokov gave outlines of his works on index cards to his wife and she created the bulk of the work. His son did many of the translations. It seems that Vladimir's work should really be seen as the work of the Nabokov family.
posted by nadawi at 6:08 PM on December 29, 2008


Wilson Rawls, author of Where the Red Fern Grows may be an example of exactly what you're looking for. Apparently he relied heavily upon the editing skills of his wife for both that and The Summer of the Monkeys. Apparently Rawls' grammar was so poor his wife had to give his manuscripts a pretty thorough going-over.
posted by valkyryn at 6:09 PM on December 29, 2008


Minimalism is generally seen as one of the hallmarks of Carver's work. His editor at Esquire magazine, Gordon Lish, was instrumental in shaping Carver's prose in this direction - where his earlier tutor John Gardner had advised Carver to use fifteen words instead of twenty-five, Gordon Lish instructed Carver to use five in place of fifteen. Objecting to the "surgical amputation and transplantation" of Lish's editing, Carver eventually broke with him.
posted by grumblebee at 6:13 PM on December 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sorry, that above link is about Raymond Carver. Gordon Lish takes credit for creating Carver's prose style.
posted by grumblebee at 6:14 PM on December 29, 2008


Thomas Wolfe is definitely the most notorious example. Theodore Dreiser could also write on a fan-fic level.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:33 PM on December 29, 2008


I've also read that Dostoevsky in the original has a vulgarity of prose style that doesn't come through in translation.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:34 PM on December 29, 2008


Laura Ingalls Wilder is the subject of the "Little House on the Prairie" series of charming books about life on the frontier. If you look at the title pages, it says she wrote them. But each book was actually completely rewritten by her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, before it went to the publisher. Lane was an accomplished journalist and author, and was responsible for the prose and the success of her mother's books. Complete details in The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane.
posted by exphysicist345 at 6:49 PM on December 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Jeffrey Archer is reportedly one example. Theodore Dreiser may be another, although some might disagree.
It is said by some that Vladimir Nabokov gave outlines of his works on index cards to his wife and she created the bulk of the work. His son did many of the translations. It seems that Vladimir's work should really be seen as the work of the Nabokov family.
I really don't think that's the case. A good deal is known about Nabokov's compositional processes and many of his hand-written manuscripts survive in public collections. I know that some want to elevate Vera Nabokov into a feminist symbol of thwarted genius, but there is no evidence that she wrote or substantively edited her husband's works.
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:02 PM on December 29, 2008


Not exactly literature but supposedly Anne Rice's later books, published without the help of an editor, are nearly unreadable.
posted by fshgrl at 7:13 PM on December 29, 2008


Maxwell Perkins is well-known for the significant editorial work he had to do with a couple of the most famous names in 20th-century American literature: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe. (He's also known for fighting to publish Hemingway over the publishing house's objections to the profanity in The Sun Also Rises.)

Fitzgerald was a notoriously awful speller (evidently his grammar was no great shakes, either), and relied heavily on Perkins both in terms of copyediting as well as structural overhaul. Perkins worked with Wolfe -- who was as notorious for his overwriting as Fitzgerald was for his bad spelling -- to trim and structure his work significantly; he convinced Wolfe to drop something like 90,000 words from the manuscript for Look Homeward, Angel.
posted by scody at 7:22 PM on December 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I always read that Hunter S. Thompson relied heavily on his editors at Rolling Stone and else where to cobble together coherent narratives from his submissions which were often broken up into disjoined pieces, faxed (in the early years of fax machines) days or even weeks apart from one another.

The story goes that he was supposed to do a 1,200 or 2,000 word piece on a motorcycle race for which he submitted a 25,000 word essay, which went on to become Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
posted by wfrgms at 8:08 PM on December 29, 2008


It is said by some that Vladimir Nabokov gave outlines of his works on index cards to his wife and she created the bulk of the work. His son did many of the translations. It seems that Vladimir's work should really be seen as the work of the Nabokov family.

Cite, please? I know about Nabokov's use of index cards, but could you cite us to any authority saying that his wife received "outlines" and then "created the bulk of" his work? This doesn't mesh with anything I have read about Nabokov, and frankly sounds preposterous.

In fact, I would tend to lump Nabokov into a group that definitely does not meet captainsohler's criteria, as Nabokov was very much a hyper-controlled stylist with a sublime mastery of the finer points of punctuation, grammar, and vocabulary.

(And to use Dmitri's translations as evidence that of some collective Nabokov family labor is silly, since translations are virtually always done by someone other than the author!)
posted by jayder at 10:20 PM on December 29, 2008


Dick Francis's thrillers were heavily rewritten by his wife Mary, who once told an interviewer: 'Dick would like me to have all the credit for them but .. it's much better for everyone, including the readers, to think that he writes them because they're taut, masculine books that might otherwise lose their credibility'.

It is said (how truly I don't know) that Jeffrey Archer can only write in block capitals, having never mastered the art of joined-up writing. I once read an article by someone who claimed to have seen a page from one of Archer's manuscripts which began: 'HE LEANED OVER AND GENTLY UNZIPED HER DRESS'.

A friend of mine works as an editor for a literary journal, and says that a high proportion of the reviews he receives -- many of them by distinguished academics -- would be unpublishable without heavy editing, and in some cases it is necessary for him to rewrite the review almost completely. Other editors could probably tell the same story.
posted by verstegan at 2:35 AM on December 30, 2008


This is a little different, but I once heard someone who worked at the "New Yorker" say that cartoonist Gahan Wilson was a horrible colorist and that they had to recolor everything he submitted (presumably cover art, since the cartoons themselves are black and white).
posted by grumblebee at 6:43 AM on December 30, 2008


Wyatt's "They Flee from Me" is an early example of stylistic intervention, as noted in the Norton Anthology:
While praising the "weightiness of the deepwitted Sir Thomas Wyatt," Tottel quietly "emended" Wyatt's lines to make them more metrically regular. Sometimes Tottel's versions differ strikingly, in diction as well as rhythm, from those found in manuscript.
Wordsworth's Prelude was substantially rewritten by the author with input from his sister Dorothy, and his friend Coleridge; editors have been at work since it was first published, posthumously, in 1850. Eliot's Wasteland changed significantly under Pound's editorial pen. These aren't examples of "bad" writing requiring correction per se but they do illustrate the complexities of style and editorial policy.
posted by woodway at 8:02 AM on December 30, 2008


A friend of mine works as an editor for a literary journal, and says that a high proportion of the reviews he receives -- many of them by distinguished academics -- would be unpublishable without heavy editing, and in some cases it is necessary for him to rewrite the review almost completely. Other editors could probably tell the same story.

*smiles enigmatically*
posted by scody at 8:35 AM on December 30, 2008


Douglas Adams didn't need help rewriting his stuff, but apparently he would have to be locked in a hotel room by one his publishers and forced to write. He generally wouldn't even start writing a novel until weeks after the final deadline had already passed.

So I guess this sort of relates, in the "he was incredibly irresponsible and would never have succeeded without outside assistance" sort of way. Which I've always found charming.
posted by kpmcguire at 11:20 AM on December 30, 2008


in the "he was incredibly irresponsible and would never have succeeded without outside assistance" sort of way. Which I've always found charming.

It's charming for everyone exept the editor.
posted by scody at 5:21 PM on December 30, 2008


GAH! except.
posted by scody at 5:21 PM on December 30, 2008


A friend of mine works as an editor for a literary journal, and says that a high proportion of the reviews he receives -- many of them by distinguished academics -- would be unpublishable without heavy editing, and in some cases it is necessary for him to rewrite the review almost completely. Other editors could probably tell the same story.

I did a freelance writing project in Austin for a dot-com, back during the first internet bubble. It paid very well, the kind of money that just about any freelancer would kill to get. After I finished the project, I spoke to the editor and she said, "I was surprised at how polished your writing was. You wouldn't believe how many of our freelance writers submit stuff that has to be heavily edited, and I didn't have to do much of anything to yours."

What amazed me about her comment was that there was nothing special about what I had submitted. No false modesty, really; my writing wasn't that remarkable and I had considered my work to be sort of pedestrian, bare-minimum stuff that I churned out dutifully that wasn't particularly great. If she was impressed by that, I shudder to think about what the other writers were producing. And they called themselves writers?
posted by jayder at 10:20 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


I had heard somewhere that Mark Twain's spelling and gramar were atrocious
posted by Redhush at 3:08 PM on December 31, 2008


« Older Help me figure out what kind o...   |  Where can I go to rehab my I-M... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.