Is editing driving you mad? You’re keeping company with some big names! In this week's Editing KnowHow Catriona Tippin takes us on a historical tour of attitudes to editing. Which ones ring true for you?

“When you are shaping your work you need to be two kinds of editor. One is the fiddly one that focuses on things like punctuation. The second is the samurai, who comes and slashes everything with a sword!”
David Almond

“Picking up your first copy of a book you wrote, if there’s one typo, it will be on the page that your new book falls open to the first time you pick it up.”
Neil Gaiman, 2005

“The sound of language is where it all begins. The test of a sentence is, does it sound right?”
Ursula Le Guin, 1998

“…the writer who breeds
more words than he needs
is making a chore
for the reader who reads.”
Theodore Geisel (aka Dr Seuss), 1980

"I wonder what Ernest Hemingway’s dictionary looked like, since he got along so well with dinky words that everyone can spell and truly understand ... My own is a tossed salad of instant coffee and tobacco crumbs and India paper ... The truth is that I have broken its spine looking up the difference between principle and principal, and how to spell cashmere.”
Kurt Vonnegut, 1966

“Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use the passive voice where you can use the active. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”
George Orwell, 1946

“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.”
Attributed to H G Wells

“The man is not wholly evil – he has a Thesaurus in his cabin.”
J.M.Barrie describing Captain Hook in Peter Pan, 1904

“I have performed the necessary butchery. Here is the bleeding corpse.”
Attributed to Henry James
on being asked by his editor to cut three lines from a 5,000 word article

“And then there is that other thing: when you think you are reading proof, whereas you are merely reading your own mind; your statement of the thing is full of holes & vacancies but you don't know it, because you are filling them from your mind as you go along. Sometimes – but not often enough – the printer's proof-reader saves you – & offends you – with this cold sign in the margin: (?) & you search the passage & find that the insulter is right – it doesn't say what you thought it did: the gas-fixtures are there, but you didn't light the jets.”
Mark Twain, 1894

“Yesterday Mr. Hall wrote that the printer's proof-reader was improving my punctuation for me, & I telegraphed orders to have him shot without giving him time to pray.”
Mark Twain, 1889

Mark Twain, painting by Charles Noel Flagg, 1890

“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”
Attributed to Oscar Wilde

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

"To my office looking over papers and mending my manuscript by scraping out the blots and other things, which is now a very fine book."
Samuel Pepys, 4 July 1663

“I knew the time when great care was had about printing... good compositors and the best correctors were gotten being grave and learned men, the paper and the letter rare, and faire every way of the best, but now the paper is nought, the composers boys, and the correctors unlearned.”
George Abbott, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1631

Oscar Wilde, photograph by Napoleon Sarony, 1882

“I am a poor devil and my name is Titivillus, I must each day bring my master a thousand sacks full of failings and of negligences in syllables and words.”
Paraphrased from a fifteenth-century treatise
(Titivillus was a demon said to work on behalf of Satan to introduce errors into the work of scribes)

“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book."
Attributed to Cicero, Statesman, 1st century BCE

Photo credits: All images from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which made all images of public-domain works in its collection available under Creative Commons Zero (CC0): “So whether you're an artist or a designer, an educator or a student, a professional or a hobbyist, you now have more than 375,000 images of artworks from The Met collection to use, share, and remix — without restriction.” Header courtesy of http://www.ikeinc.co.uk/

Catriona Tippin has been a member of SCBWI since 2006. Details of her writing and illustrating can be found here

Helen Liston is Words & Pictures' KnowHow editor. If you have any suggestions for future KnowHow posts, you can contact Helen at knowhow@britishscbwi.org

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