When I finally got the honor of being Frank Klausz’s editor, I was curious as to what sort of manuscript he would turn in. I was curious because I had read almost everything out there with Klausz’s byline on it.
Some of his stories sounded just like he talks. With his Hungarian accent, his pacing and his refreshing bluntness intact. Other stories sounded like Klausz had just graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
The manuscript arrived by mail. It was two pages, hand-typed and single-spaced. The text immediately brought a smile to my face because it was pure Klausz. Graceful but firm. No adverbs or complex sentence structures.
I handed it to a junior editor to input the text and clean up any errant typos. A few hours later, he showed up at my desk with an unsure look on his face.
“This manuscript needs a lot of work,” he said. “I might not get it back to you for a couple days.”
Seriously? Two typewritten pages? It should be done before you head home.
“The sentences are just so weird,” he said. “I basically need to rewrite the whole thing so it makes sense.”
You want to rewrite Klausz? So he makes sense? Just type it in, and I’ll do the edit.
I barely changed a word of the manuscript, and I was done with the story before I went home that night.
When it comes to editing, I try to take the lightest hand possible. The goal is to preserve the writer’s voice and even amplify it by removing redundant words and phrases that slow things down.
This is not always possible. Some people simply cannot write in a straight line. The text is circular, like a mandala. And every point they make has three digressions. Or they suffer from explaining things in minute detail for the first half of the manuscript. And then run out of patience for the second (3,000 words on stock prep. And then “…simply build all the doors and drawers. Add your favorite finish. The end”).
I send these writers a copy of “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser (used copies are $1) and ask them to follow this book like it was a holy text.
My approach isn’t the dominant one in woodworking publishing. Most editors try to make the writer’s text as easy to digest as possible – thinking they are doing a service to the reader. What they have really done is taken a Cuban sandwich and reduced it to Zwieback.
Though it makes me crazy, I know that some readers appreciate this sort of editing.
When I first met the editors of Woodsmith magazine, I was excited to talk to them about their editorial process. They managed to convey immense amounts of information into a small space. Plus they didn’t take advertisements (back in the day). And they had an immensely loyal subscriber base – the most loyal, in fact.
The Woodsmith editors were really nice and open about how they worked. One of the junior editors then remarked: “Well, first you have to learn to speak Don.”
The founder of Woodsmith, Don Peschke, is a bit of a legend in woodworking publishing (ask him about his hot tub). And when new editors came on board they had to learn to write like Don Peschke wrote. So that the entire magazine sounded like Don Peschke.
Oh, so that’s why they didn’t have bylines on their stories.
I totally get their approach. You want to do everything you can to help the reader digest complex technical information. Removing a language barrier is one way to do it.
But not me. I think of visiting Frank Klausz in his shop one time when he was railing against some video he had seen on sharpening.
“I would not sell that,” he exclaimed, “to a monkey.”
I feel certain Don Peschke never said that.
— Christopher Schwarz