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Monday, July 18, 2011

The Aesthetic Virtues of an Old-fashioned Sit-Down Meeting

When I had a chance to sit down with my first book editor in New York, it was an era-turning moment. We actually met at her home in Rye, New York, a big rambling Victorian on a hill overlooking the Hudson River.  By email I already understood her edits, but in person I would quickly understand more.

Her aesthetics.

Not so much through her margin comments, but through her house—the style of art on her walls, her furniture, the landscaping. Before the visit was over, I felt my book was now in two hands, hers and mine, and in many ways I now knew the nuances of language she liked because I knew her on another level.

I had a similar experience last week here at UCF. I sat down with my thesis director and, again, although I quickly understood her margin comments, there was a greater understanding awaiting me. I got a chance to see her office as if for the time—the high shelves jammed with books, her various writing projects stacked here and there. I also got a chance to chat informally with her—we shared a laugh over the laughably small computers being made today.

Then we got to work.

“Avoid the minutia of perceiving,” one of her margin comments read. “Give me the concrete details.”

She didn’t need to explain. Or did she?

“I already know it’s you,” she said. “It’s first person. Just”—she churned her hands in the air—“just give it to me without stage directions.”

I sat nodding, thinking.

For the longest time, I likened first person to having a big TV camera mounted on my shoulder, continually telling the reader, in some clever way, “Now I'm looking here, now I’m looking there.” Never did I stop and think—hey, they already know.

I left my thesis director’s office feeling a great burden off my shoulder—that heavy camera I had hoisted up all these years.  I was also happy to know her a little better.

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