Line by line editing


Novelist Jay McInerney on how he was mentored by Raymond Carver:

Carver used to go over my stories with me in his office and he would really go through them line by line. He was not someone who had an overarching theory of fiction so much as he had a great intuitive feel for the process. One of the things I remember most distinctly was Ray turning to me one day and saying, “Why are you using the word ‘earth’ here? What you really mean is dirt. Why don’t you just say ‘dirt?’ You’re seeking a grandiosity that you don’t need.” He said, “Say what you mean and say it in the most direct way that you can.”

And you know, I felt for many, many years afterwards as if there was a small Ray Carver standing on my shoulder whenever I reached for this sort of $15 word, gently admonishing me and saying, “Dirt. It’s dirt.”


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