I first encountered Wolcott Gibbs’s “Theory and Practice of Editing New Yorker Articles” in James Thurber’s The Years With Ross, Thurber’s memoir of the early days of the New Yorker magazine.
In many ways, it’s a relic of its moment in time (1937, to be precise); it was an internal memo, intended to bring new fiction editors up to speed on the magazine’s general style and tone. Unlike most such documents, though, it’s fun to read. A few samples:
Our writers are full of clichés, just as old barns are full of bats. There s obviously no rule about this, except that anything that you suspect of being a cliché undoubtedly is one, and had better be removed.
Mr. Weekes said the other night, in a moment of desperation, that he didn’t believe he could stand any more triple adjectives. “A tall, florid and overbearing man called Jaeckel.” Sometimes they’re necessary, but when every noun has three adjectives connected with it, Mr. Weekes suffers and quite rightly.
Among other things, The New Yorker is often accused of a patronizing attitude. Our authors are especially fond of referring to all foreigners as “little” and writing about them, as Mr. Maxwell says, as if they were mantel ornaments. It is very important to keep the amused and Godlike tone out of pieces.
The piece is available in its entirety here, and I highly recommend it.
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