The Moulin Rouge Guide to Editing

As my college roommate knows better than anyone, Moulin Rouge is my go-to movie for stressful times. I’ve watched it so often that I’ve actually had to replaced my original copy because it stopped working. So, what meaningful editorial lessons have I drawn from watching this absinth-driven extravaganza of pop culture time and time again?

"I don’t even know if I am a true Bohemian revolutionary."

Sometimes we get caught up in defining an ideal instead of just living it. What Christian’s companions point out to him is that he does have the heart of a revolutionary writer even if his experiences are limited.

While I don’t believe the myth we tell children about having enough heart being all it takes to succeed at something, heart does matter. Sometimes it matters enough to push us towards actually taking that first step, like starting a rough draft of a novel.

"A kiss on the hand can be quite continental (but diamonds are a girl's best friend)."

By no means are my editorial efforts getting me rich at the moment. If they were, I wouldn’t be in journalism and pro bono editing.

But allow me to make two points to writers here – compliment your editor, when appropriate and sincere (and you’re poor). And when you can, pay her! That could be in cheap wine or a round of bowling that you secretly use for a character brainstorm session, whatever.

Point is, if you have a good editor, recognize him in whatever way you can since you’ll want to keep him around.

"If I’m to invest, I’ll need to know the story."

The Duke puts the creative pressure on Christian and his crew to generate a story on the spot. While musicals have a sense of creative synchronization real life can never offer (damn!), there’s still a valid point here.

Not every writer thrives under pressure, but sometimes a writer needs a push. Editors can serve as that pressure for them to simply shut up and write already!

"You’re free to leave me but just don’t deceive me."

An editor is only worth her salt if she’s honest. Pages full of nothing but glowing commentary simply don’t do much to make writing stronger.

If you want your edits to be valuable, they need to be honest. Period.

If a writer can’t appreciate accurate truthfulness, both good and bad, the relationship probably isn’t going anywhere for either of you. Maybe you can stay friends?

"The show must go on."

People love to idealize the writing world. Oh how artsy! Oh how creative! Oh you’re starving for your craft! Whatever. Fact is, it’s not always easy to keep pushing forward in the face of your editorial enemies.

Even worse – editors rarely get the glittery acclaim that successful writers do. Editors must keep in mind not only potential readers but also occasionally obstinate writers.

But hey, at least you won’t have to try to trick the man you love into thinking you used him then die of tuberculosis in front of all your friends.

In many ways, I’m perfectly content to keep 19th century Paris restricted to the imagination of Baz Luhrmann. Still, I hope these musical tidbits will encourage you to be a better editor and/or writer and not just left watching Moulin Rouge… like I am right now.