The Prompter Room

 

For Friday, June 23, 2017:

 

We need not fear a future elimination of the book. On the contrary, the more that certain needs for entertainment and education are satisfied through other inventions, the more the book will win back in dignity and authority. For even the most childish intoxication with progress will soon be forced to recognize that writing and books have a function that is eternal. It will become evident that formulation in words and the handing on of these formulations through writing are not only important aids but actually the only means by which humanity can have a history and a continuing consciousness of itself.

Hermann Hesse, ‘On Little Joys’ in MY BELIEF: ESSAYS ON LIFE AND ART

 

Hermann Hesse

The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, June 13, 2017:

 

BOOKS FEED AND CURE AND

CHORTLE AND COLLIDE

 

In all this willful world

of thud and thump and thunder

man’s relevance to books

continues to declare.

 

Books are meat and medicine

and flame and flight and flower,

steel, stitch, and cloud and clout,

and drumbeats in the air.

 

Gwendolyn Brooks, ‘Book Power’

 

 

The Prompter Room

For Friday, June 9, 2017:

 

It is remarkable, the character of the pleasure we derive from the best books … There is some awe mixed with the joy of our surprise, when this poet, who lived in some past world, two or three hundred years ago, says that which lies close to my own soul, that which I also had wellnigh thought and said.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘The American Scholar,’ ESSAYS AND LECTURES

The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, January 10, 2017:

 

What an astonishing thing a book is.  It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles.  But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years.  Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you.  Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of different epochs.  Books break the shackles of time.  A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

Carl Sagan

The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, December 20, 2016:

 

The object we call a book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or seed.  It exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is inside the head of the reader, where the symphony resounds, the seed germinates.  A book is a heart that only beats inside the chest of another …

Rebecca Solnit – ‘Flight,’ THE FARAWAY NEARBY

The Prompter Room

For Thursday, March 10, 2016:

 

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”

Charles William Eliot (1834-1926), President of Harvard

“I think books were my salvation, they saved me from being miserable.”

Amy Tan

Well, I’m nothing if not a little slow.  Sometimes, apparently, it takes 50+ years for things to come together, which is what happened this morning as I read the quotes above.  Talk about a Duh! moment.  I think I have just now realized when I must have become a writer – or, rather, a gestating writer.

For most of the years of my childhood, books were my best friends.  Because of illness and injuries, I missed a lot of school when I was young, so I read all the time.  Thanks to my parents, we were what they called ‘book poor.’  There were toys, sure, but mostly I was surrounded by books – books for my and my sister’s ages at the time, and also the books my parents read, the libraries of their parents, and the public library.  I would frequently try out books supposedly beyond my comprehension level just to see if I could read the words.  When I could, I kept reading … and reading, and understanding.

The Dr. Seuss book Oh, the Places You’ll Go! could’ve been my mascot.  Books took me all over the world, to civilizations centuries before me and beyond me, to neighborhoods and schoolyards that were similar to my own.  There was always a particular poignancy when I found book friends who were as familiar with doctors’ offices and sickbeds as I was.  They helped me understand that there were children whose illnesses were much worse than anything I was going through, but still we had a lot in common and I didn’t feel quite as alone.

Unlike Amy Tan’s, my childhood was never miserable.  Overall I remember my childhood as a happy one.  I think books had a lot to do with that because they took me out of myself.  I did feel sorry for myself on occasion – mostly when I was impatient or frustrated because I was missing a field trip or special occasion at school, or if I was in a lot of pain – but I knew I could rely on my books, our books, for a special kind of comfort.

Now that I’m in my 60s, my go-to place when I need comfort or to be comfortable still is to curl up in bed with a book.  It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, and it didn’t when I was young.  I didn’t, and I don’t, read to escape or forget.  I read to be transported, I read to learn, I read to understand others, to get a sense of the world and my place in it.

I think I must have discovered early on that writing was akin to talking with my friends in all those books.  They talked to me and I wanted to respond.  And oh, the conversations we’ve had ever since!

The Prompter Room

For Monday, February 1, 2016:

 

“Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer.  But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”

Colette – CASUAL CHANCE, 1964

One of the things I love most about editing is that I get to read two or three books – sometimes more – with each project.  I read the initial manuscript, of course, but then, as I work with the author, each revision round of edits results in a new or different book.

We all love our own words.  There’s nothing wrong with that – they’re our ‘babies.’  Some of us even love the process of putting those words to paper.  What can be hard is to judge and evaluate whether those particular words are the best ones for the story in which they’re placed.  Are they in the right order, do they set an appropriate pace, do they develop the plot?

If not, then they need to go.  Maybe not entirely.  Maybe some words need to go elsewhere in the story, or in the mouth of a different, or even a new, character.  Perhaps the concept of a word is right, but a synonym will convey a nuance that’s better.  Sometimes, though, they do need to be taken out completely.

Some of us writers are better than others at such evaluations in our initial edits before we submit a manuscript to an editor, but a good editor will pick up on even minor changes that will benefit the story, the characters, and the intent of the plot.  I believe this is the sign of a good editor: does s/he work on behalf of the story or the author?

There will be times, of course, when an editor should let the author have the last word – it’s his or her work, after all, and if s/he’s not comfortable with a proposed change, that’s her prerogative.  The key is to develop a solid relationship between author and editor so there can be substantive conversations all the way along.  As long as I’m confident the author is focused on the book’s and characters’ well-being over his or her own words, I’m willing to let go of my own suggestions on occasion.

I work so your book becomes as beloved to you-the-author as the words of the first submission.  If you find someone to whom you can ‘entrust your words who cares as much about your words’ as you do, then you have found a gem.  Your book will benefit each step of the way to final development – and if I’m your editor, I get to enjoy each and every version as if it’s brand new.