Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The Editing Job Looms

A few weeks ago, in my blog post here, I was talking about how Lydia Davis, when writing about the benefits of translating, says that a lot of translating is sentence-by-sentence problem-solving, which she finds fulfilling and pleasurable in and of itself.  Something similar pertains, I think, to the process of editing, in particular to editing certain types of non-fiction pieces.

I recently finished a monthlong stint working on a piece for a non-fiction anthology that has to do with films of a certain type from a specific period.  My piece is on Brazilian cinema during the period from 1964 to 1990, for most of which time Brazil had a military dictatorship in place.  I'm concentrating in particular on two filmmakers, one known for horror films, Jose Mojica Marins, aka Coffin Joe, and the other for "art" films that won much acclaim and prestigious awards on the international festival circuit, Glauber Rocha.  I wrote about 4,300 words on these two, trying to convey as concisely as possible a bunch of information about both Marins and Rocha and the conditions, sometimes repressive, they dealt with as filmmakers. It's a complex subject, and I managed to communicate some information more clearly than other information, and then of course there may have been information I could have included but didn't, worried as I was about the required word count. In any event, I shipped the piece off to the anthology's editors, and now the suggested edits have come back, and good ones they are. A certain amount of reshaping and clarifying will be necessary, and I may wind up taking the entire month I've been given to complete the work.

So: here we come back to what Lydia Davis was talking about.  Not unlike translating, editing, I find, especially editing non-fiction, often comprises a series of problems to be solved.  You have the suggestions given to you to get you going and, as in this case, a certain "house" style to adhere to while doing it.  Clarify this point or that point, you're told, factual points, which may be complex and require expansion of the text, but you still have a basic word count you can't surpass.  Unlike fiction, you don't have to invent anything, thank goodness, and this specific piece is not even one where I'm offering many of my own thoughts on a subject.  More than anything else, I'm trying to describe a historical period in a country through its cinema (or, more accurately, two very different contributors to its cinema) and to get as much clear information across to people who may know nothing about that country or its cinema.  

To boil it down, there is the overall problem of the piece to tackle, but there are also the line-by-line editing challenges to solve. Problem to be solved after problem to be solved after problem to be solved.  It's like facing a month of homework, but for whatever reason -- and I loathed homework when in school -- I have to say that I do look forward to doing it.  It's a challenge to myself, and odd as it sounds, the process is almost what I might actually call fun.  We'll see.  I have to get started on the edits. I'll know for sure then whether I can solve the problems facing me to my satisfaction.  

No comments: