Under the covers: the secrets of the relationship between authors and editors

Sarah Bannan introduces her new series, Authors and Editors, an attempt to discover when, how and why the work of art is made, unmade and remade

Weightless author Sarah Bannan: “Over the next few weeks, I ask a number of leading authors and editors to answer some simple questions about how they work together. What they love, what they hate, and whether they abide by the editor’s code: ‘First do no harm’.” Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Weightless author Sarah Bannan: “Over the next few weeks, I ask a number of leading authors and editors to answer some simple questions about how they work together. What they love, what they hate, and whether they abide by the editor’s code: ‘First do no harm’.” Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Raymond Carver to Gordon Lish: “If I have any standing or reputation or credibility in the world, I owe it to you.”

TS Eliot, on the dedication page of The Wasteland: “For Ezra Pound/ il miglior fabbro.” Loosely translated: the better craftsman.

Emily Dickinson, in her first letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson: “MR. HIGGINSON, – Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive? The mind is so near itself it cannot see distinctly, and I have none to ask.”

The author and the editor. It’s a relationship that fascinates. Sometimes harmonious, sometimes a collaboration, sometimes a war. And sometimes – or maybe mostly – it’s a bit of all three. But the relationship intrigues us, as readers and as writers. We see what we were perhaps not meant to see: when and how and why the work of art is made, unmade and remade. We see what it is and what it might have been. And what it was in between.

We imagine the writer’s life, her work, as solitary. Alone in a room with a pen and paper, a typewriter, a laptop. But writing isn’t always so solitary. There is a form of collaboration that occurs, at one stage, or many stages, throughout the writing process. There are questions that need to be tackled, problems that must be solved, or half-solved, conversations and arguments to be fought and won and lost. And this can’t all go on in one person’s head. Or maybe it could, but it wouldn’t be wise.

So…enter: the editor. The individual who cares about the work as much – and perhaps more constantly, more steadfastly – than the author herself. The fresh set of eyes, the breath of fresh air (and the eliminator of cliches, ahem).

Over the next few weeks, I ask a number of leading authors and editors to answer some simple questions about how they work together. What they love, what they hate, and whether they abide by the editor’s code: “First do no harm.”

Sarah Bannan is the author of Weightless (Bloomsbury Circus)

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