Thomas Jefferson reportedly had over 6,000 books in his personal library. How could you read all of those books in a lifetime? Reading just one book a week would take nearly 115 years. But in his entire library there was one book that Jefferson took it upon himself to perform some major editing.
In what became known as the Jefferson Bible, Jefferson took a blade, cut out selected portions of the New Testament, and then re-assembled them, omitting references to Jesus’ miracles, His resurrection and His deity. Jefferson, in his interest with ancient philosophers, was only interested in the doctrine and moral teachings of Jesus Christ.
So…..wow…..where to begin. Removing the supernatural changes who Jesus was in a foundational way. His message of the Good News is not complete without the miracles, His claim to be the Son of God, and His resurrection from the dead. Without them, Jesus’ teaching could be cut and pasted into any other teacher’s, philosopher’s or holy man’s story.
That’s the power of editing.
A single word by itself usually will not adequately communicate a complete and coherent theme. But string some words together and the mystery happens. Is there a formula to achieve that mystery? Nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives and punctuation used in the right fashion and sequence transform those lonesome words into a thought, a concept, and eventually an entire book. And then a proper edit can enhance the message. Or wreck it.
There’s a scene in the B movie Tremors in which actor Michael Gross’s character is asked what was in the explosives that he used to kill the giant worm monsters. His classic response was “a few household chemicals in the proper proportions.” Words, assembled properly, are also pretty powerful. And it helps to know the proper proportions.
The repeated practice of putting words together properly (writing) increasingly yields better results, and the wonderful mystery that is writing becomes all the more compelling. To borrow another movie quote: “Writers write.”
We were talking about macro editing and micro editing this week with in our agency. Both approaches have their place, and both are needed to produce a publishable manuscript.
Your book, be it non-fiction or fiction, has a central theme and message. And we know that editing can either steer us to that message, or make it difficult to find and comprehend the message.
So what’s the point? When it’s time to edit that manuscript, take a step back, look at the big picture, and remember to leave room for the mystery.
Thomas Jefferson used a razor blade to edit; today we can use tools like Scrivener. What’s your personal editing philosophy? What tools do you use? How have you learned to trust your editor?