The A’s and B’s of Editing with Michael Cunningham

Our travels to Cascais, Portugal included the opportunity to see Michael Cunningham as part of the Disquiet Literary Program. Michael wrote The Hours, A Home at the End of the World, among many more books. We’ve had the opportunity to enjoy some fantastic writers this past week. The writers who will live on in my heart were the women I had the pleasure of seeing, but Michael will live on in my head because he did something a little different.  He turned his talk into a discussion. Instead of reading, he spoke back and forth with the audience about being writers. He reminded us he didn’t have all the answers just because he was the one holding the mic. We discussed why we write, how he edits, and how to address writer’s block. One of the lessons of editing that he shared was from a teacher he had in college. The teacher suggested he go line by line and grade them with an A or a B. Then he should go back and change all the A lines to B lines. A’s, as his teacher explained, was purely for showing off that he could write them but aren’t the best for the reader. I loved that. It’s something I will need to incorporate into my own editing process.

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