On editing

Ornament

24 March 2010, 1.59 CET

Julian Barnes:

“About halfway through my stint we were on our third or fourth extended conversation about a particular piece; it had been through a couple of sets of galleys and was now in page proof. By this stage any writer knows the article by heart: you are as fed up with it as you are familiar, you long for it to be put to bed, but you civilly attend to what you hope will be the last few queries. It was at this point that Chip picked on an adjective I’d used, one of those words like, say, crepuscular or inspissated, which don’t form part of your core vocabulary but which you reach for from time to time. ‘You’ve used crepuscular before,’ said Chip. ‘I don’t think so,’ I replied. ‘Yes, I think you have,’ he said. ‘I’m fairly sure I haven’t,’ I replied, beginning to feel a little irritated – hell, I knew this piece inside out. ‘I’m pretty sure you have,’ Chip responded – and I could hear his tone hardening too, as if he was really going to dig in on this one. ‘Well,’ I said rather snappily, ‘which galley did I use it on then?’ ‘Oh,’ said Chip, ‘I don’t mean this piece. No, it was a couple of pieces back. I’ll look it up.’ He did. I’d used the word some nine months previously. I naturally excised it now. And that, if anyone wants to know, is editing.”

/via Guardian Books