Eva van Emden (she/her), freelance editor

Certified copy editor and proofreader


September 12, 2011

The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell

Book cover: The Artful Edit by Susan Bell

Be your own editor

You won’t always get the perfect editor for your book, and you can’t rely on editors having time to do all the work they’d like to. Be your own editor as much as you can.

Susan Bell’s The Artful Edit is a guide for writers to help them edit their own work and to get the most out of their collaboration with an editor. Bell considers different strategies for editing during the writing process and suggests ideas for getting a fresh view of your draft. She then deals with the nuts and bolts of what to look for when editing. Later in the book, she steps back to look at the role of editing in art by interviewing non-print artists about how editing has improved their work and looking at some famous writer–editor relationships.

The book contains a lot of practical advice and examples. There are checklists and exercises to help you focus on specifics. Bell quotes from letters between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his editor, Max Perkins, to show how they worked on The Great Gatsby and quotes passages from different drafts of the manuscript to show the changes they made.

Although the book has some concrete stylistic advice (remove excessive “be” verbs, watch out for redundancy), this is not a style guide. Read it if you’re interested in larger issues (intention, structure, theme) and if you’re interested in thoughts about the role of the editor in creative writing.

Be a mechanic, not a judge. When you edit, do not ask yourself: Do I like this? Ask instead: Does this compel me and can I follow it? If the answer is no, figure out why.

—Susan Bell, The Artful Edit

Tips for getting distance from your draft

From The Artful Edit

  • Read it aloud, with or without an audience
  • Print it in a different font
  • Read it in different surroundings
  • Take a long break: don’t look at the manuscript at all for a few weeks
  • Go through the manuscript with someone else
  • Hang the pages on a line or lay them out on the floor to help you visualize the flow and layout
  • Send it away: giving your manuscript to someone else can make you see it with new eyes

Reviewed from a library copy of the book.