Abbeville and Editing the Classics

If you all haven’t met Abbeville, then it’s time to get acquainted. Not only do they publish some gorgeous books, they also regularly take on Big Orange with the style and vigor of a banty rooster. Lawsy, I love someone with a little grit in their craw.

A little while ago, someone suggested to them an exercise in editing the classics. The first example was the Lord’s Prayer.

I didn’t participate because that prayer brings back too many memories of me learning it. We lived with my aunt and grandfather on the farm. The house had no electricity, heat aside from the wood-burning cook stove and a coal stove in the living room and no running water.

Each night, Aunt Rose got down on her knees with me beside the bed and we said our prayers. Mother had printed out the Lord’s Prayer on a paper for me and sent it to me and I read it aloud each night until I memorized it. Now, this farm being in Montana and it being the middle of winter in an old farmhouse with no heat or insulation, I’m sure Aunt Rose would have preferred we not spend quite so much time on our knees in the cold. However, she encouraged me to read the prayer with all my stops and halting as I struggled through the words.

I learned that lovely prayer and kept Mother’s letter for years in the heart-shaped Valentine box that also held all the paper flowers I drew and colored for Grandma while she was dying.

The point of the exercise was not to disrespect it, but rather to show how even short works can be trimmed a bit more without altering the tone and meaning of the piece.

This got me to thinking, which I like to do.

At what point do we stop searching for the tightest writing and compromise for our sense of the poetic?

It’s a different answer for each writer, I suppose.

John Simpson once posted a piece from an older work in which he described death personified. I thought it was one of the most beautiful and gut-wrenching passages I had ever read. Death watched and swooped down on an unsuspecting person just going about their business.

He, on the other hand, apologized for his transgressions. We should all be so lucky to have our works riddled with those haunting transgressions.

I’ve cut a tremendous amount of description and the songs from Paladin as well as entire scenes, chapters and arcs. Can it be cut more? I imagine it can and will be. Even so, as I near the final revision, I have decided the poetry of the words also have a place.

It’s a very difficult balancing act and one only the author knows how to walk.


  1. Finding my name in a post together with the Lord’s Prayer, Abbeville, your Mother, Aunt Rose, and Grandma, and the un-ironic and completely convincing use of the word “Lawsy”… well, it’s all a bit too much. Excuse me while I have a sit.


    Ah. Much better now. Thanks.

    One of the extremely cool things about books is that the… the lines of scrimmage are constantly shifting. (This is the closest to a sports metaphor I’ve ever ventured or am capable of, so bear with me if it’s a little clunky.) As you say, the answer to that “When do I stop?” question is different for each writer and, I’d bet, different for each of a given writer’s works. Add into the mix that READERS (including the authors, when not in writing mode) have their own sense of where to place the marker, and their own sense of whether the author succeeded or failed, and… it gets pretty messy.

    Messy, but interesting. More than anything else, I think that’s what I like about writing and reading (especially fiction): it’s all this big wobbly pile of decisions, half-decisions, missed chances, mind-blowing leaps of faith… I look at it and think Gawd (or “Lawsy, if you prefer) — how can literate people honestly believe stories and literature to be *boring*?!?

    (Thank you as always for your confidence, Julie.)

  2. John, I think you are completely right. The line is going to move according to who is looking at it. In the end, we are the refs and have to make the call.

    I think the Abbeville exercise was interesting because they did preserve the tone and the meaning of the prayer and still cut it significantly in word count.

    It just goes to prove just about anything can be trimmed. We have to be able to determine what we want to project and whether it is worth quibbling over.

    As for your thanks, that isn’t necessary. Anyone who reads your works can see the beauty of the crafting.

  3. “The style and vigor of the banty rooster.” Lawsy, what a compliment. Thanks for the post, Julie, you have imbued us with grit and confidence for future battles.

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