Como escrever (em ingles) - Wall Street Journal
The Special Relationship
A Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and his longtime editor offer a guide to the craft of nonfiction.
Good ProseBy Richard Todd and Tracy Kidder
Random House, 195 pages, $26
Relationships between writers and editors can be vexed, and vexing. When the publisher Robert Giroux asked T.S. Eliot if he subscribed to the adage that most editors are failed writers, Eliot said that he did. But then he added, "So are most writers"—a maxim that many a beleaguered editor, toiling behind the scenes to fix broken prose, will be quick to endorse. Michael Kinsley, a longtime editor at magazines like Harper's, the New Republic and Slate, is reputed to have said that the ideal writer is the one who files his piece and then gets run over by a bus, so the editor can rewrite with impunity. On the other hand, as Messrs. Kidder and Todd advise, editors do well to remember that, ultimately, "editors need writers more than the reverse." Many writers view editors, sometimes not without reason, as parasites subsisting on the life and voice they leach from prose. This is true even though many editors—including Mr. Todd, the author of a very good previous book about authenticity, "The Thing Itself" (2008)—are themselves writers, and vice versa. Sometimes an editor or writer will switch teams permanently in frustration. A few years ago, I heard that the editor in chief of a prestigious magazine had stepped down to become a fairly junior writer at another, less prestigious publication. Why, I asked, had he chosen to do that? "I was tired of always being the solution," he said. "I wanted to be the problem for a while."
Messrs. Kidder and Todd claim that one reason their relationship remained productive for so many years was that "we shared a code common to men of our era, which meant that we didn't expect much, or feel like offering much, in the way of intimacy or 'sharing.' " Maybe so, but in a sense they were exceptionally intimate: One of the secrets of Mr. Kidder's success is that he is not afraid of writing badly in front of his editor, which frees him from the paralysis of writer's block. I've worked as a magazine editor for 20 years and done some writing on the side, and I'd say that the relationship you have with your editor should be like the one you have with your urologist—you should feel comfortable showing him unspeakable, embarrassing things and trust that he will not recoil but endeavor straightforwardly and discreetly to help. (The writer-editor relationship should also have a confidentiality akin to attorney-client privilege or, perhaps more aptly, to that of the psychiatric couch.)
Another reason Messrs. Kidder and Todd have thrived together for decades is that "each of us imagined himself more forbearing than the other, and as a rule kept our irritations to ourselves." But despite their mutual forbearance, by this account author and editor play largely to type. Mr. Kidder assumes the traditional writer's role of perpetual adolescent ("Is your eldest at home?" Mr. Todd once said over the phone to his author's wife), while Mr. Todd takes the role of avuncular guide, treating his wayward charge with bemused irony.
Divided into chapters on beginnings, narrative, memoir, essays, dealing with facts, style, the business of writing, editing and being edited, and a usage guide, "Good Prose" mixes memoir and instruction, with sections written from the writer's perspective, sections written from the editor's, and sections written together. While unconventional, this structure doesn't feel disjointed. You are in such good company—congenial, ironic, a bit old-school—that you're happy to follow them where they lead you. Reading their chapter on narrative structure, you know they've put careful thought into how to organize the book. "The fundamental elements of a story's structure are proportion and order," they write. "Managing proportion is the art of making some things big and other things little: of creating foreground and background; of making readers feel the relative importance of characters, events, ideas, of deciding where the accents go. Often it means upsetting normal expectations by finding a superficial trivial detail or moment that, on closer examination, resonates with meaning."
For me, the memoirish sections hold special fascination, because they cover life in the 1970s at the Atlantic, the magazine where I work now. "Every month the staff argued over the magazine's cover and usually ended up with something colorful and overstated, in the vain hope that a touch of raciness would improve newsstand sales," the authors write. "But the covers threatened the magazine's cultural legitimacy, the real attraction for its true audience and for many who worked there." Four decades later this hits closer to home than I should like to admit—but I find it reassuring to learn that the Atlantic's editors then worried that they, too, might be spending down the magazine's cultural patrimony. (There are, of course, significant differences between then and now, too. The long boozy lunches at the Ritz-Carlton Bar, for instance, have been replaced by the Potbelly sandwich scarfed down at the desk.)
In dispensing advice, Messrs. Kidder and Todd draw on their long experience. For instance, to provide a sense of the volume of reporting necessary to produce a good book—and of the distilling process necessary to find the story among mere information—they reveal that Mr. Kidder drew his book "Among Schoolchildren" from 152 notebooks worth of material. They also draw artfully on examples from a disparate range of the best nonfiction (and some fiction) writers, past and present, from usual suspects like Emerson and Orwell and mid-century masters like A.J. Liebling, Truman Capote and Joan Didion to Jon Krakauer, Katherine Boo and David Foster Wallace. As a curriculum for the aspiring writer, the choices would be hard to surpass.
Messrs. Kidder and Todd articulate sturdy general principles and useful techniques, without ever being didactic. Some of their choicest bits of advice are dispensed as aphoristic bits of wisdom.
If you're not writing for a newspaper, go ahead and bury the lead (or the "lede," as the newspaperfolk spell it)—because "the heart of the story is a place to arrive at, not to begin."
"The image that calls attention to itself is also the image you can do without." (Maybe I should have dropped that urologist metaphor.)
If you are writing a memoir, "try to accept that you are, in company with everyone else, in part a comic figure."
Perhaps most important: "Writing is revision."
And finally: "The familiar rules about writing turn out to be more nearly half-truths, dangerous if taken literally. They are handy as correctives, but not very useful as instruction."
The chapter on the essay ("the natural medium for ideas") is particularly good. "Essays let you second-guess yourself, even contradict yourself in front of the reader," they write. "Self-doubt, fatal in so many enterprises, fortifies the essay."
Perhaps because many books about writing are in one way or another so dreary—so fussy or technical or boring—the good ones tend to stand out: H.W. Fowler's "Modern English Usage" (1926); Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style" (1959); William Zinsser's "On Writing Well" (1976); Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird" (1995); Stephen King's "On Writing" (2000). "Good Prose" at least knocks on the door of this pantheon.
Yet a book focusing on the writer-editor relationship inevitably feels somewhat dusty in the age of the blog and the tweet, when it's a truism that book editors no longer edit because they're too busy with marketing, when dwindling amounts of time and money have made editing a luxury and editors themselves, increasingly, a rarity at every kind of periodical. The tyranny of the page view—the metric by which much journalism is measured these days—tends to demand a velocity that leaves little time for correcting prose, much less the extended writer-editor colloquies of the sort Messrs. Kidder and Todd have profitably engaged in for four decades. Like those martini-saturated lunches at the Ritz, such colloquies can seem today like an indulgent treat, the relic of some antediluvian age.
Still, I believe it remains the case that, as William Whitworth, once the protégé of the New Yorker editor William Shawn and later Robert Manning's successor as editor of the Atlantic (and also, for a time, my boss), puts it to Messrs. Kidder and Todd: "All writers could use another pair of eyes." Anyone who has read my Twitter feed would agree.
—Mr. Stossel is the editor of the Atlantic magazine. He is writing a book about anxiety and can be found, unedited, on Twitter as @sstossel.