Editing The Greats, Ctd

Feb 17 2013 @ 3:35pm

Pivoting off John Simon’s anecdotes about editing Auden, Lionel Trilling and Jacques Barzun, Alan Jacobs suggests they might point to “a kind of rough Taxonomy of Authorial Character”:

As a Trilling — the character in the middle — I understand the Barzun kind of writer, but struggle to accept the Auden type. I’ve only ever edited one book, on which I worked with my colleague Ken Chase, and in general it was a pleasant experience. But one of the essays — I shall of course never reveal which one — came to us in shocking condition, full of typos and incoherent sentences and undocumented (or incompletely or inaccurately documented) citations. Ken and I probably spent more time on that essay than all the others combined, and it seemed to me then, and seems to me now, that to send an essay to editors in that condition was both unprofessional and arrogant. I’m your editor, not your servant, I thought. But I suppose real professional editors have that thought at least once a day….

David Mills adds:

This, by the way, is a description that would upset some writers — not Alan — who pride themselves on being difficult, because the difficulty they think a marker of their gifts. The real professional engages the editor, assuming he knows what he’s doing and that there’s a reason for his suggestions. The writer may not accept them (I don’t when I’m on the other side of the relation) but he responds to them.

I should add that the taxonomy is incomplete. It doesn’t include, for example, the writer who writes like Auden but acts like Barzun. There are a lot more of these than you might think. And it doesn’t include the writer who writes like Barzun and acts like Auden. Fortunately there are a lot more of these than you’d think.