The New Yorker has run a copy of one of the stories from the Raymond Carver manuscripts. They show how the story was edited by Gordon Lish. Whole pages cut out. Whole paragraphs added by Lish. Even names of characters changed. The whole last 2 pages is cut and Lish writes a new ending paragraph.
Reading through it, so often Lish is right. His cuts definitely improve the story when they are taking away things that make the story too sentimental seeming. A lot of times the edits are cutting things that reminded me of things you seem in workshops that you wish you could say should go, but that most people do not. The edits often improve the story.
Cutting the last two pages and several pages before that seems awfully extreme. It changes the entire story. Whether the story is better or not, I'm not sure. It's hard to say such a thing. I like the paragraph Lish ended the story with better than the way Carver wrote it.
I like extremes.
I imagine Gordon Lish believes in absolutes.
I often believe I believe in absolutes though I will not argue them except with certain people.
It is hard to imagine what Carver must have felt. But he let the changes continue. I believe his last book CATHEDRAL he did not show to Lish. I'd like to have gotten to hear some of Lish's lectures.
It's funny reading stuff Lish edits and stuff Lish writes. He loves to say one thing and then say it again and again slightly differently. Things other people would definitely cut, he used and exaggerated.
Everyone should taste some Lish, though when I got obsessed with him a little his style started to rub off on me and my writing got really bad. Like unreadable. Though there are certain lessons I have learned from him (or things I've heard attributed to him) that have made me a better writer now, I think.
I think he used to talk about having one word, and every other word followed from that word one after another, like association. A whole story would germinate from one sentence germinated from one word. Not stream of consciousness. Association.
I use association.
I mean that in several ways that are hard to describe.
I read an anecdote one time about Lish showing up for a lecture with a spot on his shirt where he'd spilled something and then pretty much ruined the shirt trying to wash it out to the point that the cloth was ripped through.
His book EPIGRAPH is about how the narrator's wife is dying in another room in his house and he's going in to help her but he sees a little speck of something on the carpet (I forgot what he calls the speck but it's something strange) and then he gets so obsessed with the speck that his wife dies while he's attending to it. Or something like that. It's hard to tell certain things about his writing.
It's hard to tell certain things about anyone's writing.
It's hard to tell certain things.