Image © Zev Hoover
Another Way to Be an Artist: Editing as a Collaborative Art Form
by Miranda Rizzolo
By age six, I knew I wanted to be an artist. Not a visual artist — my painting would unfortunately never progress beyond the squishy blobs taped to my refrigerator. But an artist who told stories. My childhood was spent in imaginary worlds: writing fantastical tales, dancing in pink tutus, and reciting made-up monologues from atop my living-room coffee table.
Fourteen years later, I still spend half my life rehearsing shows, the other half reading books. I don’t know exactly what I want to do with my life, but I have to give the child-me some credit, as my general ambition remains the same: tell stories. I figure I’ll probably be an actress or a writer — equally dependable professions, my parents assure me.
Listening to my upperclassmen friends rant about the common travails of fetching coffee and filing endless piles of paperwork, I decided that summer internships were overrated. Still, this summer I resolved to put my artistic ventures on hold. Spurred by my “I’m-halfway-through-college” crisis, I set out to attain some marketable skills (or, at the very least, a resume booster). I decided I wanted to try editing, a more practical and potentially attainable career choice for an English major, I thought. And despite my painful lack of experience, by some stroke of serendipity, I got an internship at the LA Review of Books.
I soon learned that interning at LARB is anything but typical. The members of LARB’s staff who run the internship program do not expect us to show up with vast editorial knowledge or extensive experience in publishing — they want to teach us. Every week, we attend a seminar, where editors at LARB and guest speakers from the world of independent publishing share their professional knowledge. And instead of fetching coffee, I meet for coffee with Jonathan Hahn, LARB’s Executive Editor and the member of the staff with whom I work directly. Between our weekly classes and my work with Jonathan, my summer internship has transformed from a feeble stab at pragmatism to an exploration of another kind of art — editing.
For Jonathan and for LARB, editing is a true partnership with the writer, a collaborative art form that must be preciously guarded and passed down to the next generation. As interns, we don’t just proofread; instead, we are encouraged to learn and practice real editing. We learn to remove jarring repetitions, seeking instead the kind of repetition that is sprinkled deliberately through a piece, echoed words or images that help form a cohesive narrative. We learn the difference between line edits — sentence-by-sentence adjustments for clarity and flow — and heroic edits — the “not entirely unironic” phrase for major restructuring or rewriting. Above all, we learn to make every change with one goal in mind: the preservation of the writer’s voice. And everything we learn, we actually do.
With Jonathan, I have worked on articles about history, politics, poetry, and noir fiction. Jonathan asks for my feedback on submissions and allows me to do edits at various stages of publication, from first pass edits to final proofreads. He sends me comments, shows me his own edits, and discusses work with me. And he encourages me to make bold editorial choices.
Sitting outside Coffee Bean with me, he shares a new article he is working on, a behemoth of a piece I will get to help edit. Jonathan says that projects like this terrify and excite him as an editor—they test his skill with language and challenge him to polish already wonderful work that has the potential to become extraordinary.
I always thought the creation of a story was solely the job of the writer (or even the actor). But editors, too, are creators, meticulously combing paragraphs for problems they must then inventively solve, imaginatively crafting and re-crafting sentences as they work alongside writers to shape a piece into the most powerful, compelling story it can be.
My six-year-old self didn’t know what editing was. My one-month-ago self saw editing as a semi-practical back-up plan. My current self has not yet achieved total vocational clarity, but because of LARB, I have discovered another way I can learn to tell stories. Another way to play with language and to occupy my over-active imagination. Another way to be an artist.
I enjoyed reading this, Miranda. Nice piece.