Archives for 17 January 2012

Kipling on editing

This leads me to the Higher Editing. Take of well-ground Indian Ink as much as suffices and a camel-hair brush proportionate to the inter-spaces of your lines. In an auspicious hour, read your final draft and consider faithfully every paragraph, sentence and word, blacking out where requisite. Let it lie by to drain as long as possible. At the end of that time, re-read and you should find that it will bear a second shortening. Finally, read it aloud alone and at leisure. Maybe a shade more brushwork will then indicate or impose itself. If not, praise Allah and let it go, and ‘when thou hast done, repent not.’ The shorter the tale, the longer the brushwork and, normally, the shorter the lie-by, and vice versa. The longer the tale, the less brush but the longer lie-by. I have had tales by me for three or five years which shortened themselves almost yearly. The magic lies in the Brush and the Ink. For the Pen, when it is writing, can only scratch; and bottled ink is not to compare with the ground Chinese stick. Experto crede.

—Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself

I have read a lot of advice to writers in my time, some of which is pretty widely applicable, some narrowly applicable, some scarcely applicable at all, and some of which I would urge anyone to erase from their brains if they value their sanity. This advice of Kipling’s is one of the few things I can recommend to anyone. Except for one caveat: The ground Chinese stick is not recommended if you write on any kind of electronic device. Real proper India ink is so difficult to wipe off the screen.