Anthony Trollope

We treat with the knife

I am responding to a researcher's questionnaire about editing and the role of the editor. One question invites me to suggest a metaphor for editing, and the first that occurred to me is one I have made previously in these dispatches: surgery.

Editors must deal with the text as it is. Sometimes the best we can achieve is to make the substandard mediocre, because, as I often quote Anthony Trollope, "One cannot pour out of a jug more than is in it."

So we as editors start looking for diseased tissue to excise. A substantial amount of the work I have done over the past three decades is cutting.* I go searching for cliches, for pleonasms and wordiness, for needless...