Thursday, March 26, 2009

Editor Gordon Lish

While doing research on Gordon Lish I came across a very interesting discovery. This guy, former editor for Esquire magazine from 1969 to 1977, completely changed writers' works. So much so that the original, when compared to the stripped down finish, might conceivably be unrecognizable.

An October 2007 New York Times article, When We Talk About Editing, revealing the deep cuts Lish made in Raymond Carver's work is eye opening. Astounding, actually.

What is especially interesting to me is that when I was first writing fiction, a New York friend in the publishing business said my work was O.K. but to see what great writing really looked like I should read Raymond Carver who exemplified the new minimalism in literature.

Now, more than two decades later, I discover Carver is not what everyone thought he was. Or rather, the Carver that critics called "great" was actually Gordon Lish. How can this be?

Editors do play several important roles when it comes to writers. I am grateful for having had some very good editors massage my work at times. A takes a second set of eyes to see that two ideas in a paragraph may not be linked very well, or that a meaning is ambiguous, or that a sentence is clumsy. Young writers are more likely to get repeat jobs if they don't mind this attention to detail by a second pen.

Here's the opening paragraph of the Times piece.

''One More Thing'' is the final story in both ''What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,'' Raymond Carver's breakthrough collection from 1981, and ''Beginners,'' a proposed volume of what Carver's widow, Tess Gallagher, and some scholars, consider Carver's original versions of the same stories. They were later trimmed and sometimes reshaped by Gordon Lish, Carver's first editor. In the story L. D. is threatening to walk out on his wife and family.

Check out these two versions of the end of one of Raymond Carver's more famous stories, revealing how the piece was originally submitted and what readers saw after Dr. Lish applied the scalpel.

What do you think?


LEWagner said...

Just so long as the editing is a joint effort between the original writer and the editor, and agreed to by the original writer, it's cool.
When the Duluth News Tribune edited "for clarity", though, they'd change the punctuation, drop or change words, and sometimes actually change the meaning and make it sound stupid. That's unforgivable.
On their website they don't edit comments -- but they still do manipulate, by picking and choosing which stories they'll allow comments on, and picking and choosing which comments which they'll post. They supposedly do this according to "guidelines", but they don't always follow their own guidelines.
They also manipulate by just disappearing all the comments on a certain issue, while people are still debating it.

ENNYMAN said...

I agree with you that the editor/writer relationship should be a collaboration. Of my 300 or so published articles I've only had a couple which I felt we edited clumsily. Usually there are virtually no changes whatsoever. In the office setting where I am at, the tightening is almost always an improvement, or discussed as a suggestion.

As for the Trib... I haven't read it enough in recent years to have much imput for those comments.

LEWagner said...

>>>>>>>As for the Trib... I haven't read it enough in recent years to have much imput for those comments.

The DNT is the newspaper I love to despise, for all the Minnesota-nice lies it's told concerning some very serious matters, over the years. I just can't stay away from it.