Adele Annesi

Adele Annesi is an award-winning editor and writer for global Web content and print publications. She is an editor with the IT analysis firm Gartner, Inc., and has worked as a development editor for Scholastic Publishing. She is also a fiction and nonfiction book editor. As a press correspondent and columnist, Adele has written for newspapers, magazines, blogs and literary journals, including Hotmetalpress, and Trillium. She won Poetic Voices of America’s editor’s choice award, and presented the innovative "Art of Editing in Writing" workshop for the Ridgefield Writes 300th Anniversary program. A nominated member of Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in American Women, Adele is at work on a novel and several short stories. Visit my blogs, Word for Words, and Writing Linx or, see me on Facebook or LinkedIn

Gatsby’s Music: When the Editing Begins

If you’ve never read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, or if you haven’t read it recently, I suggest you read it. You’ll find it has much to teach about when to let your writing soar and when to set it down and self-edit.

I’m glad I didn’t read Gatsby in school because it would have been just another homework assignment instead of a love affair. I still might not have read it had it not been required reading for a writing conference. But what started as an assignment instantly transcended that. Fitzgerald’s voice, his poetry, lyricism, and imagery struck a chord, enabling the written word to go beyond the page and to the heart. And like music, writing that touches the heart is memorable. You feel it long after you put the book down.

As writers, this is what we want our readers to experience. That’s why it’s important during the first draft of a story to be a writer first and an editor second. It may sound strange for an editor to say that, but timing really is everything. It’s impossible to write as Fitzgerald did in Gatsby while wearing your editing helmet and using those heavy tools to control the writing. So, after you’ve taken your idea, done a plot treatment (or storyline), and created your character sketches (even for short fiction), including place as a character, let your writing soar. Don’t fret when you can’t find the right words to get the writing off the ground, which happens often, use this tip: Explain to yourself and the reader in your head what you want to say, and write it on the page. Then when you go back and edit, you’ll be a step closer to eliminating two major problems—clichés and ambiguity.

One editing tool that helped Fitzgerald eliminate these mortal enemies of writing and get Gatsby to its place in literary history is the rewrite. He already knew the times because they were his times, and he understood high society because it was his society. But before Gatsby became a novel, Fitzgerald wrote the story many times in many ways, including shorter pieces. The results? Nary a cliché to be found in the novel and no real ambiguity, only Fitzgerald’s practiced hand at not revealing everything—until the end.

But before you go on to the form of editing called the rewrite, put the story aside. While it’s resting on the cutting board, three tools will help you trim what doesn’t serve the work. Read other

authors who sound like you or whose voice you’d like to emulate, read literary criticism to understand concepts like myth and motif and how they’re used, and read poetry, that style of wisdom literature where you truly can glimpse eternity in a grain of sand. These types of reading feed the soul and fuel the imagination, as well as your thought process, which will fuel your efforts when you begin rewriting.

When you return to the work, approach with caution. Start with a boning knife instead of a cleaver, especially if you’re writing literary fiction, short or long. Begin by cutting away unnecessary words, then revise sentences that don’t say what you mean. Finally, consider the sections that don’t say much of anything. Ask yourself: What’s the underlying message? Why did I write this, and what did I really want to tell people? Then rewrite the text, or eliminate it (you can always keep it in a separate “good ideas waiting for a home” file). That’s what I did here—you should have seen this piece before other editors looked at it.

This is a streamlined process of the rewriting Fitzgerald did in his shorter versions of what eventually became The Great Gatsby. The technique worked in part because Fitzgerald not only knew his subject and what he wanted to say about it, he also knew how to say it. Like a piece of classical music, he had practiced long enough and knew the piece well enough to let his real voice, that of a poet, come through.

In the end, what’s most impressive about Gatsby isn’t necessarily the story of Jay Gatsby and the Buchanans; soap operas and B movies tell similar tales. It was how Fitzgerald told their story, his lyric style honed by all those versions and unseen rewriting, that made it memorable. In the lives of Gatsby and the Buchanans was humanity in all its brokenness, but in the language that showed their lives was everything beyond that: a strange sense of hope because the music of the language elevated the work beyond the melodrama it could have been. That sense of something beyond words on a page is what touches the heart and makes me want to read Gatsby again to hear the music one more time.

Taking care in the rewriting process can bring out the music in your work as well.