In these posts, with the author’s permission, we look at their work pre-editing and post-editing—and at what I did to improve the piece.
This week’s In The Edit
is a little different. For one thing, Terrie Todd submitted a piece I hadn’t seen before. Exciting!
Previous posts in this series (Ane Mulligan, Larry Timm, Linda Rohrbough) featured writers who submitted articles I’d already edited for the American Christian Fiction Writers magazine ACFW Journal.
But this week I’m also going to include some comments from Terrie on the edit job I did of her piece. Not because she said really nice things—though she did—but because her comments illustrate some key points about the editor/writer relationship. Another note: Because I asked for a short submission, Terrie reworked a longer blog post of her own to fit my request. There’s a link at the end of my post to her full article.
I first came to know Terrie through The Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel Contest, where her manuscript, The Silver Suitcase, semi-finaled in 2010 (that’s Top 10) and finaled (that’s Top 5) in 2011. That’s a pretty good upward progression.
View Terrie’s original.
Terrie has an engaging sense of humor. While this piece is not a laugh riot, it does have her trademark “snicker-out-of-the-side-of-your-mouth” feel. You get that from the beginning. So one goal, obviously, was to keep that intact—and even enhance it, if possible.
Secondly—and this is a goal of any piece an editor works on—reduce the excess verbiage. I wanted to do this, one, because it’s a good thing to do and, two, to bring a little more focus to the piece.
Finally—and this is where Terrie will comment—I felt like something was missing in the piece that, to me, was so obvious I was surprised she hadn’t included it. More on that later.
View my track changes edit of Terrie’s article..
Before Terrie starts singing, “Don’t tell me not to live (write), just sit and putter. Life’s candy and the sun’s a ball of butter,” I’m not talking about the Barbra Streisand movie from (gasp!) 1968. In person, and in writing, Terrie is a hoot.
Take a look at the opening. She is right there in her voice’s sweet spot, but then lets the gag go. We can’t have that. She went from Terrie to some Mary Poppins-ey voice and a “delightful education.”
If you start a gag, finish it. That’s why I added, “So, I’m still cooking, but I’m also learning…” to better segue from the quirky opening to the life lesson that follows.
Trim, trim, trim
Note the unnecessary details in that opening graf. We don’t need to know it’s a venetian blind or that it’s between Terrie and the nest—where else would a window blind be?
In paragraphs three and four, there’s a lot to trim. Some principles:
- Don’t hedge: Even then, it would be shaped
all wrong and probably fall apart in the first wind. When you hedge, you actually weaken your comparison point.
- Me, me, me: In writing personal opinion pieces, there’s no need to write “I believe” or “in my opinion.” Anything not attributed to someone else is assumed (though one does hate to assume) to come from the author.
- Echo, echo: The point about being hard-wired to do something is great, but I thought it was stronger to save the phrase for the human.
- Vive la différences!: Terrie’s original said “the difference between robins and humans,” but the list of differences between the two species is long, so a rephrase kept the idea without ruffling Terrie’s feathers.
As I said earlier, I know Terrie a little. We hang out in the same cyber-writer places. Because of this, I made an assumption about the audience of this piece that I shouldn’t have. I assumed the audience was Christian, when—well, let’s have Terrie tell it:
I like all your edits. I realize we didn’t discuss target market. Adding in the Job reference is okay if this is a devotional. Since it’s for my column in a mainstream newspaper, I think it’s a) too much “religious stuff” – many readers wouldn’t know about Job; and b) creating a whole new metaphor that seems to come out of left field. I’d rather end with a reference to the robins.
When I edit, I normally talk about audience with the writer before I start—it’s a critical consideration. But I didn’t this time. As a result, I made an addition to the piece that seemed a natural enhancement—and in the right situation, would be—but actually worked against the author’s intent.
What I love about this example is that not only do I get to use it to remind editors and writers to talk together about audience, but I also get to illustrate a vital part of my editing style.
Regardless of how well I know an author, I never make substantial changes without running them past the author. I hold my Prime Directive—first, do no harm—in mind. Because that’s true, even though just for my blog, I ran my edit by Terrie. And I’m glad I did. Given the market/audience, and her heart, her idea for the ending is the best.
See my edited version of Terrie’s article.
Finally, check out Terrie’s full post at her blog, Out Of My Mind.
Terrie, thanks for coming Into The Edit with me!
If you would like to see your writing in a future In The Edit post, send a maximum of 350 words to michael.ehret (at) inbox (dot) com. Please send in Word format (.doc). If I use it, you’ll be eligible for a 10-percent discount on any editing services.
On Thursday, we’ll look at another self-editing writing tip. See you then! Then on Saturday, drop by for a quick writer’s quote and to share what that quote means to you.
Michael Ehret, for Writing On The Fine Line