Why don’t we begin with editors. How do you . . .
OK. All my editors since Malcolm Cowley have had instructions to leave my prose exactly as I wrote it. In the days of Malcolm Cowley, with On the Road and The Dharma Bums, I had no power to stand by my style for better or for worse. When Malcolm Cowley made endless revisions and inserted thousands of needless commas like, say, “Cheyenne, Wyoming” (why not just say “Cheyenne Wyoming” and let it go at that, for instance), why, I spent five hundred dollars making the complete restitution of the Bums manuscript and got a bill from Viking Press called “Revisions.” Ha ho ho. And so you asked about how do I work with an editor . . . well nowadays I am just grateful to him for his assistance in proofreading the manuscript and in discovering logical errors, such as dates, names of places. For instance, in my last book I wrote Firth of Forth then looked it up, on the suggestion of my editor, and found that I’d really sailed off the Firth of Clyde. Things like that. Or I spelled Aleister Crowley “Alisteir,” or he discovered little mistakes about the yardage in football games . . . and so forth. By not revising what you’ve already written you simply give the reader the actual workings of your mind during the writing itself: you confess your thoughts about events in your own unchangeable way . . . Well, look, did you ever hear a guy telling a long wild tale to a bunch of men in a bar and all are listening and smiling, did you ever hear that guy stop to revise himself, go back to a previous sentence to improve it, to defray its rhythmic thought impact. . . . If he pauses to blow his nose, isn’t he planning his next sentence? And when he lets that next sentence loose, isn’t it once and for all the way he wanted to say it? Doesn’t he depart from the thought of that sentence and, as Shakespeare says, “forever holds his tongue” on the subject, since he’s passed over it like a part of a river that flows over a rock once and for all and never returns and can never flow any other way in time? Incidentally, as for my bug against periods, that was for the prose in October in the Railroad Earth, very experimental, intended to clack along all the way like a steam engine pulling a one-hundred-car freight with a talky caboose at the end, that was my way at the time and it still can be done if the thinking during the swift writing is confessional and pure and all excited with the life of it. And be sure of this, I spent my entire youth writing slowly with revisions and endless rehashing speculation and deleting and got so I was writing one sentence a day and the sentence had no FEELING. Goddamn it, FEELING is what I like in art, not CRAFTINESS and the hiding of feelings.
What Jack sent to Malcolm was a book on one long roll of paper. Not separate pages. Apparently one day in the office, Malcolm took the manuscript and unrolled it across the floor much to the hilarity of everyone. On The Road still crackles with energy.
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