Jane Austen and her editing style: could you do it?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about the editing style of Jane Austen….

When I edit on paper, I use a wickedly sharp red pencil. When I edit on screen, I use my wickedly sharp fingers on a keyboard. But it has never occurred to me to use wickedly sharp sewing pins.

But that’s what Jane Austen used to do. As, apparently, did many other writers in the days before computers. Archivists at Oxford’s Bodleian Library can trace pins being used as editing tools back as far as 1617.

When that library acquired Austen’s abandoned novel, The Watsons in 2011 it wrote:

The Watsons is Jane Austen’s first extant draft of a novel in process of development and one of the earliest examples of an English novel to survive in its formative state. Only seven manuscripts of fiction by Austen are known to survive.The Watsons manuscript is extensively revised and corrected throughout, with crossings out and interlinear additions.

I love to see this manuscript, complete with pin hatchings. But, for now, I’ve had to content myself with a photo, which you can see here. It reminds me of my unhappy days in sewing class, in grade 8, having to pin tissue paper patterns to fabric and always making mistakes.

I’m so glad to be able to use a computer to edit now. (And you can see some of my editing advice here.) My thanks to reader Susan Soriano for thoughtfully sending me this link.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on March 19/18.

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