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Sunday, September 26, 2010

You just can't

The late, great Diane Middlebrook (author of Anne Sexton biography and beloved Stanford prof) once told me, "You can't edit yourself any more than you can tickle yourself" -- and for the same reason, I might add: You know what's coming.

There are four questions even experienced authors cannot answer about his or her own prose, without a second set of eyes: Is it clear enough, concise enough, complete enough, convincing enough?


Jonathan said...

Yes, but you can get your writing up to a point where the editor won't have to do very much. An experienced writer does have some distance from his or her own prose and can see things that aren't clear, concise. convincing. Not always, and not perfectly either, but up to about 95%. Then the editor can concentrate on the real problems, not having to correct silly things that the writer shouldn't have done in the first place.

Phaedrus said...

I agree. Experienced writers can estrange themselves from their prose to simulate a second set of eyes.

Also, writers who devote themselves to the "plain language" style of writing, as you do, beautifully, are already revising their prose from the point of view of many elements in a very wide audience. This empathy with one's audience during the revision process is a form of estrangement from one's own experience of composing the prose under consideration.

I wish I could have written that more plainly!