Sunday, October 31, 2021

Writing Advice From An Exasperated Expert

      A promotional video for the latest effort from Wes Anderson* has Bill Murray reading from "The Theory And Practice Of Editing New Yorker Articles" by Wolcott Gibbs.

      "...Theory And Practice..." is a real article, written in 1937 when the magazine was, in fact, burning through a series of fiction editors.  Whatever else they get up to, New Yorker consistently offers well-written prose, fiction especially.†  So the idea that such an article existed caught my attention.

      The guidelines apply as much to writing as they do to editing, and the piece includes a particular gem on the overuse of adverbs: "...a writer who can't make his context indicate the way his character is talking ought to be in another line of work."  There's more to it than just yanking every word ending in -ly!

      At four pages, it's just a little too long for a tattoo -- but the general good writing advice in "The Theory And Practice Of Editing New Yorker Articles" is certainly worth a few drumbeats.
* The film is either brilliant or impenetrable.  I do not believe a work can be both, though the same work may be one or the other for different people.  Tamara wants to see it and -- circumstances permitting -- I may go along.
† Sadly, the overwhelming editorial loathing for Donald Trump during his Presidency made the magazine unbearably tedious for me -- not because I was a big fan of Mr. Trump (I can't stand him) but because I was already seeing more than a sufficiency of the then-President on TV and online.  New Yorker's combination of sniffiness and hyperbolic partisan humor was in excess to that surfeit and, worse, consisted of far more icing than cake.  At least Cato the Elder was content to merely end every speech by declaring "Carthago delenda est;" he didn't lead with it and thread it through every topic.

1 comment:

Tam said...

Donald Trump was, for The New Yorker, what climate change has become for National Geographic. No matter how tenuous the connection, editorial policy seemed to insist on at least passing mention in every single article and column.