From 'Catch 18' to 'Catch 22,' and Other Great Moments in Editing

Novels, movies, cartoons, tattoos ... everything is better on the second draft.

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In 1961, author Joseph Heller finally submitted his manuscript for Catch-18 to his editor, Robert Gottlieb. Although Heller had spent seven years perfecting the story, Gottlieb saw room for improvement. The editor taped the pages to his office wall and restructured the novel, giving more emphasis to the now-famous Major Major character and instructing Heller to delete entire 60-page sections. But most importantly, Gottlieb wanted to change the title.

Earlier that year, writer Leon Uris had released a war novel called Mila 18, and Gottlieb didn't want any confusion between the two books. What followed was an exchange of frantic letters in which Heller and Gottlieb considered and rejected various numbers for the title. They decided 11 didn't work because of Ocean's 11; 14 was "an unfunny number;" and 26 just didn't feel right. "I've got it!" Gottlieb blurted out one night in a eureka moment. "It's Catch-22! It's funnier than 18." The edit stuck, and a major, major idiom was born.

Sometimes the editing process is the make-or-break moment for a work of art. Below, relive seven other great moments in which editing saved the day.



A version of this post originally appeared on Mental Floss, an Atlantic partner site.

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David Wanczyk writes for Mental Floss.

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