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"X" marks the spot

For a first time writer, seeing your precious work crossed out page after page with large "X" can seem daunting. But for writer Jonathan Goldstein it was one of his greatest learning experiences.

Here, in their own words, are Jonathan and his editor Ken Sparling discussing the editing process and how they brought Lenny Bruce is Dead to life. 

Jonathan Goldstein


Ken would send back the pages I'd send him with pretty much a huge "X" through each page. Seeing a big "X" through my most sincere and, what I thought, most beautiful thoughts, was one of the greatest learning experiences ever bestowed on me. It was a lesson in what Hemingway spoke of as "killing your babies." 

After about a dozen pages of these large, corner to corner "X"'s, his hand probably having grown tired from the effort, he'd begin making a small "x" in the margin symbolizing the larger through-the-page "X." But then sometimes he'd "X" out almost a whole page and that was thrilling, because the sentence or two he left behind would shine. Sometimes there would be little scrawled words in the margins that I couldn't read; but often, just based on what I considered "angry handwriting," I'd trash everything within a ten-sentence radius." More from Jonathan Goldstein »

Ken Sparling


I wanted to have an influence on Jonathan Goldstein when I edited his writing, because what I saw in the best of his writing spoke to me in a powerful way. What I heard behind the best of Jonathan Goldstein's words was a beautiful innocence, an earnestness that shone through Jonathan's intelligence, his well-developed sense of irony, and his cleverness. At his best, Jonathan was able to preserve this earnestness in the face of his own cleverness. At his best, he was able to rein in his cleverness and use it in the service of his earnestness.

I'm not sure exactly what Jonathan saw when he looked at those big "X"s I put through his writing, but they obviously stood for something more than the removal of most of his words. Maybe the "X"s represented something definite, something that said to Jonathan: There is such a thing as quality, the world isn't just chaos, there is something worth aspiring toward in your writing." More from Ken Sparling »


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