You Have to Know They’re on Your Side
By Dick Cummins
Dick Cummins is a 1970 graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Just finished writing our 2011 Cummins Family Snoozeletter and for unknown reasons the Pulitzer committee continues to ignore them. I have an idea why. It’s the editing.
Eric recently pointed out editing is important and I agree, especially to get the purple out. But regarding grammar and the clericals—well I don’t know the difference between an intransitive verb and an evanescent one or a direct object from a discursive model.
I write for sound, sense and sensibility and leave the grammar and clerical tweaking to my wife V., whom I have mentioned before as my Maxine Perkins. Remember too, I like to write about slovenly characters, solipsistic individuals, irregardless of their education.
Isn’t this the kind of editing that wives are for? They know things.
This from “Michael’s” response to Eric’s post on editing: “My advice is to marry a talented writer/editor, trade rough drafts regularly, and keep your mind open and your skin thick. Worked for me.”
Well sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. This is how my lovely but inquisitional editor explains how we write our holiday snoozeletters:
“Dick authors a first draft … an exercise in fiction writing … some say family therapy, others vindication. Next V. redacts for accuracy, deflates exaggeration, reducing an entire page to a few sentences (eliminating all imaginative passages Dick adds) and introduces actual facts.”
Below find a perfect example of Dick’s before and Maxine’s after—snooze editing.
Dick writes: “The big news this year is that V. has signed us up for a vegetable club. The Southern California Organic Fruits and Nuts Cooperative Dick thinks it is called. For $40 dollars a week, every Friday V. takes a laundry basket to the distribution center and staggers back with a tub full of vegan nutrients. Here is what we get: zucchini, green leaf, romaine and red leaf lettuce; zucchini, arugula, radicchio, broccoli, tomatoes and zucchini; carrots, Hubbard squash, butternut squash, turnips, rutabagas and zucchini; sugar snap peas, eggplant, lemons, limes, watermelons and zucchini; dill, parsley, basil, and this consideration—a Zip Lock baggie with some yellow fungus from Mexico that you sprinkle on rotting vegetables to kill the smell.
A family of 12 could not eat one month’s accumulation of these vegetables and yet every Friday —there comes more. Our fridge is now a 32 cubic foot crisper. Dick has looked in the phone book but finds no number for vegan Good Wills—which is why we have a compost Matterhorn in the back yard now.”
This is what survived that inspired first draft after Maxine trimmed it up, claiming to fix the grammar and punctuation too:
“V. joined an inexpensive Community Supported Agriculture Collective this year and we get a few seasonal organic fruits and vegetables from a distribution center every Friday. Sometimes we cannot eat it all so I use the compost to enrich the soil in our flower beds.”
This is not editing; its CENSORSHIP!
So I advise We Wanted to Be Writers readers to be circumspect about getting involved in any relationships that feature both early onset affection AND prose editing. It can cause trouble —Michael’s response and Eric and Cheryl’s obvious détente’ notwithstanding.
In 1973 Maxine and I were sharing a tiny live-aboard sailboat in a Key West marina. I still falsely believed I had some control as we were living together outside the sacred bonds of connubial bliss. Thus I felt Maxine would be on her best behavior, at least for awhile. So in the mornings I would hand Maxine two or three legal pad pages of scribbled (but lyrical) prose which she would then type, expurgate and hand back. Imagine the dungeon (see snoozer example above – three pages into one paragraph!) Things started going south from there because I had to have her type and she would not stop editing.
“Snippy” I guess you would say started to define our relationship then and we even experimented with a “No-talking-hat” idea. Hers was an old Iowa winter tuque with yellow pompom and mine was a raffish Captain and Tennile yachting twit job. Hat on, no conversation allowed until it comes off.
Trouble was we started wearing them all the time. Tension mounted. I stopped giving her yellow pages to type and cleanse. But then a miracle happened—things started getting better when my agent encouraged me to start writing a screen play I had suggested. Big money in it he said. Maxine liked the dialog and seemed to be back on my side, even added lines of her own!. And that is the vital thing about having an affectionate relationship with your editor (and sometimes co-author).
YOU HAVE TO KNOW THEY ARE ON YOUR SIDE. After all, if you get good at what you are doing they are your business partner and are going to help you spend the money, right? Right. So choose your editors carefully . . ..
(And I hope Cheryl will cast her eagle eye over this piece because, unless I’m willing to chance another week on the couch, it will not be getting an imprimatur from my Maxine Perkins!)