Ambit Creative
Adele Annesi

Adele Annesi is an award-winning editor and writer for global Web content and print publications. She worked as a development editor for Scholastic Publishing, and is a fiction and nonfiction book editor, specializing in nonfiction and memoir. As a press correspondent and columnist, Adele writes for newspapers, magazines, blogs and literary journals. Her stories have appeared in The Circle, The Fairfield Review, Hotmetalpress, Miranda Literary Magazine,,The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Trillium, the Italian-American literary journal Pyramid and an anthology for Fairfield University. She won Poetic Voices of America's editor's choice award, and presents the innovative Art of Editing in Writing workshop for continuing education venues and area libraries. She is a nominated member of Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in America and Who's Who in American Women. Besides that and occasionally breathing, she's working on a new novel.

The Image of Grace: Editing as a Discipline

I have a wonderful book called Flannery O’Connor, Images of Grace that never fails to encourage me as a writer and an editor. The biggest encouragements in this biography are O’Connor’s honesty about the hardships of her life and art, and the reality that discipline and perseverance are required for both.

O’Connor, a formidable twentieth-century novelist and short story writer known for her Southern Gothic style, struggled with systemic lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease. She was upfront about her feelings on the subject, saying, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She was forthright, too, about the hardships of writing, of which she considered the varied forms of editing a major part. “Sometimes I work for months and have to throw everything away.”

Editing, like writing, is systematic, thorough, precise, and ongoing. O’Connor knew the importance of its discipline to her craft. She believed in good writing and editing habits, and practiced them continually. “You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent.” Her craft involved extensive and ongoing cutting and revision, and she was ruthless about it.

The unsparing willingness to cut what’s not working is essential. But how does a writer know what to get rid of? In a word, honesty. Internationally acclaimed writer Jessica Auerbach is the author of Catch Your Breath and Sleep, Baby, Sleep, the story of a young mother searching for her kidnapped baby, which gained international attention as a television movie. She moves methodically through the writing process, but takes time to let the editing side of her brain reflect on what she’s written. She said this about a novel in progress: “I had been working for a very long time and didn’t think the story had what it takes to be a book.” She didn’t ignore the persistent sense that the story wasn’t working, and took a long hard look at the work. “It felt like I was standing in one place and telling and retelling same incident,” Auerbach said. With this realistic perspective, she was able to see that the problems were redundancy and lack of forward motion.

Part of Auerbach’s work ethic and that of O’Connor is rigor, not just to remove what doesn’t work but to include what does.

Again, O’Connor makes a good model. “It is the peculiar burden of the fiction writer that he has to make one country do for all and that he has to evoke that one country through the concrete particulars of a life that he can make believable.” Consolidation like this can’t be done all in one draft, but if you realize during the writing that something’s missing but don’t want to jeopardize your momentum, note the problem where you’ll be forced to address it. I keep a “To Resolve” section at the end of each chapter of a novel or at the end of each story so that I’ll remember to go back and fix them.

Maybe you’ve never thought of editing as adding or reworking detail, but under the headings of revision and rewriting (both are part of editing) comes the concept that some aspect of the story isn’t working because something is missing. O’Connor felt the same, especially about the strangely vivid people in her stories. “I can’t allow any of my characters . . . to stop in some halfway position.” And she didn’t. Her characters were fleshed out to the point where readers are often uncomfortable with them, but they’re three dimensional and memorable, not clichés or caricatures.

Why do we do all this fixing? To make the work better and to make the images we’ve created come alive. “Fiction is supposed to represent life,” O’Connor maintained. “And the fiction writer has to use as many aspects of life as are necessary to make his total picture convincing.” To achieve this end, perseverance is required. O’Connor felt that way, even after working for months and still having to throw everything away. “I don’t think any of that was time wasted,” she said, believing that “something goes on that makes it easier when [the writing] does come well.” And that’s the sense of satisfaction—when the writing comes well.

To put this musing into action, go back to something you’re working on or have put away because of the sneaking suspicion something’s not right. Ask yourself what you feel isn’t working and why. Also ask yourself where in the story the problem arises (it may be more than one place). Then consider whom you might contact to ask for a second opinion and how to incorporate your ideas and the suggestions you believe are valuable. It doesn’t hurt to pray about these decisions along the way. Also see my Web site: Adele Annesi.