What Victor Hugo’s Manuscript Tells Us About Editing Work and Life

We were heartened by image of Victor Hugo’s handwritten manuscript of Les Misérables — considered one of the great novels in the world —with its crossed out passages, arrows and inserts of new text. First we marveled that he could write such a complex and perfect novel BY HAND. And then we thought, EVERY creative person goes through this process in some way or another.

It’s a fine symbol of the requirements for any inventive work: taking patient, painstaking step after patient, painstaking step, the willingness to discard big hunks, and to persevere, until you get it right. There is no way around it, even if you are Victor Hugo.

So an artist friend of ours destroyed many paintings recently, ruthlessly editing out the work that wasn’t strong enough or complete enough…or simply right enough: not what he wanted to put into the world.

We know quite a few people who are engaged in the practice of editing, not only of their work, but of their lives, looking closely to discern what is no longer important, honing, weeding, discarding, to get to what is.

It reminds us of two nuggets from one of our favorite books, The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry, and Translations:

The first a poem:

My teacher once said to me,

—become one with the knot itself,

till it dissoves away.

—sweep the garden.

—any size.


The second, simply the last page of the book:

This present moment:

That live on,

To become


Long ago


via Retronaut

One Response to What Victor Hugo’s Manuscript Tells Us About Editing Work and Life

  1. David Saltman 12.06.2013 at 12:33pm #

    This is very heartening, satisfying, enlightening, reassuring.

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