Has there been a more thankless task in modern literary history than editing Hunter S. Thompson? According to former Rolling Stone editor Robert Love, the magazine actually assigned junior editors the task of babysitting Thompson as he approached his deadline. (Okay, there are worse junior editing tasks than that; I've done them). In a recent in the Columbia Journalism Review article, Love discusses this and much more in his essay about editing the good doctor at Rolling Stone. Charming revelation: HST's bluster and bombast attained readability only after long, hard editorial oversight. The kind of oversight that involves tearing the thing apart and and reassembling it sentence by sentence:
So, a flurry of manuscript pages would arrive, buzzing with brilliant, but often disconnected passages, interspersed with what Hunter would himself call "gibberish" (on certain days) and previously rejected material, just to see if we were awake. "Stand back," the first line would inevitably say, announcing the arrival of twenty-three or twenty-five or forty pages to follow in the fax machine. Soon there were phone calls from Deborah Fuller or Shelby Sadler or Nicole Meyer or another of his stalwart assistants. We always spoke of "pages," as in "How many pages will we get tonight?" "We need more pages than that." "Can you get those pages marked up and back to Hunter?" Pages were the coin of the realm; moving pages was our mission. I would mark them up, make copies for Jann, and then send them back.
The issue for the magazine was never that Hunter wasn't the funniest, cleverest, most hilarious writer, sentence to sentence or paragraph to paragraph. The editor's role was getting those sentences to pile up and then exhibit forward momentum. (Hunter called this process "lashing them together.")