lorin stein on editing

“Do you recall your first editing project?

I do. Did you see the movie Wonder Boys?


Well, the movie and the book revolve around a professor of creative writing, played by Michael Douglas, who has this two-thousand-page novel he’s been working on for many years. In the last scene of the movie, the wind picks it up and blows it away. But in real life, that novel was sent to FSG. And I ended up editing it. It’s called The Honeymooners, by Chuck Kinder.

Chuck was very gentle with me, but in general if I could go back and do it again, not specifically Chuck’s book but all of them from the early time, I would be less sure of my judgments. Not judgments of what I like, not that I would edit less. But I realized later on that every strong editorial feeling I’ve ever had, every fight I’ve ever had over an editorial question, after enough time I didn’t think I was really right. That has been true, always. Once you begin arguing about an editorial question, there will come a time when you look back and think that you weren’t right. I wish for the sake of some of the books and some of the people I worked with, that I had known that.

Do you think the way you work changed over time?

Yes, I know it did. Nowadays, if I find myself in disagreement with a writer, I partly know that given enough time, I will end up agreeing with the writer.

And does that guide how you edit now?

I hope so. Of course, in the heat of the moment, you still get bossy and wrong.”

— Lorin Stein with Astri von Arbin Ahlander, ‘People Wear Khakis’, MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction, ed. Chad Harbach, n+1/Faber and Faber, New York, 2014, pp. 162-163.

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