Maxwell Perkins on Editing
Creative writing is at its core, well, writing. There is no denying that. Putting pen to paper (or fingers to a key board) is the most significant, fundamental part of writing any story. Our Facebook group for the ECP parents and community is called “Raising Writers” for a reason. However, inherent within that moniker of “writer” is a skill that is frequently overlooked, but no less important: editing. It is not a coincidence that so many writers workshops, no matter for which age group, start with the adage, “Writing is rewriting.” And though these three words might sound simple, they contain a multitude of knowledge and skills ranging from the most basic grammar to the most behemoth plot restructuring. Many successful writers would work with valuable editors, but it is equally important for the writers themselves to know how to edit and improve their drafts.
Maxwell Perkins—an editor credited with discovering and nurturing talents such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe—has been called one of America’s greatest editors. During a decades-long career at Scribner's, he has fought for the publication of young Hemingway’s first novel, and shaped the iconic success that is The Great Gatsby. But through it all, he has always maintained that, “A writer’s best work comes entirely from himself.” This focus on the endless possibilities within a draft, which can then be refined and unearthed through editing, is clear in the quote above. As writing instructors or parents helping young writers with their work, we should say less of, “Let’s see what I—the adult—can do with your draft,” but more of, “Let’s see what we—the editor and the writer—can come up with together.”
A huge part of creative writing is editing. However, that can be an individual or a collaborative process. By working with a young writer on their draft over a few days or weeks, we can instill in them the skills and approaches necessary both for writing/editing on their own, and for receiving feedbacks from future teachers or editors. What’s more, as a number of our blog posts mentions, children harbor an endless amount of amazing, unexpected ideas, and we should remember to not inject our own style or points of view into their works. That is something we emphasis at ECP as well. As Perkins mentions in another memorable quote, “If you have Mark Twain, don’t try to make him into a Shakespeare or make a Shakespeare into a Mark Twain.” Finally, if your children has a great idea, but feel intimidated by writing, remind them that they are not alone. Just get it down on paper first, and then we can tackle it together. Even the greats needed help.