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Filtering by Tag: editing

The Disaster of the Unedited Life

Jean Hoefling

B42ART Editing an English language document

One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends. – St. Nikolai Velimirovich (1881-1956)

The noted novelist who taught the fiction writers workshop I attended said this a lot: “Assume your reader is smarter than you are.” As a reviewer of self-published works for an online indie book review site, I see a lot of writing that makes me wish every author kept this in mind. Too often I have to sit down with a heavy heart to write a far less than glowing review for a book that’s somewhere on the continuum between lackluster and disastrous, sometimes (though not always) because it wasn’t properly worked over by a ruthless professional editor who’s trained to see what that writer couldn’t. Did the author of the repetitive, structurally weak self-help book riddled with disjointed and patronizing narrative, confusing syntax, careless typos, and myriad formatting issues think his readers would be that oblivious, that willing to settle for mediocrity, because after all, this guy wrote it, so it must be great? It seems obvious, but apparently isn’t to some, that before the glorious final unveiling of one’s chef d’oeuvre, serious dues must be paid.

Then I wonder: What if in my personal life I’m as disjointed and uninspiring as that book? What would happen if I sat down with a good friend and asked her to hit me with my greatest character flaw, the one that might break me in the end if I don’t get a clue? Alas, our brains are hardwired to pretty much see perfection in ourselves, which is part of why writers often can’t detect the weak story arc that’s going to doom their novel if they don’t take a hard look at things, much less spot their own typos.

They say the devil’s in the details, but so is God. A writer determined to be stellar will endure even a brutal editor if he senses the guy is on the money. The lure of a glowing end product makes temporarily wounded pride worth the wait. As to life, the Serbian bishop Nikolai Velimirovich was so receptive to refinements of character that he called his torturers in the Dachau death camp “cruel friends” because he claimed their evil ministrations enlarged his capacity to love others. With that kind of humility, imagine the novel he could have written.

Internal Editor

Michael Dechane


Editing, in itself, is not the problem. Editing is usually necessary if we want to end up with something satisfactory [But] The habit of compulsive, premature editing doesnt just make writing hard. It also makes writing dead. — Peter Elbow, Writing Without Teachers

Last Fall, my wife and I began reading The Artist’s Way together and doing some of the work Cameron prescribes for recovering or nurturing the stunted artist she claims is in each of us. Early in the book, she lays out the importance of free writing exercises and brings up the idea of an internal editor that will invariably try and squash these attempts to just write. The exercises were fun, and the time with my wife was delightful, but I was uncomfortable with really believing that there was some kind of creativity-killing hobgoblin lurking in the shadows of my inner life. A year later, I wonder why: there really is something – someone – there, that fits that bill. Just trying to write a post about it/them is enough to prove Cameron’s idea plausible, if not true. And I remember Spacey’s character in The Usual Suspects, riffing on Baudelaire: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

So I’m trying to understand who this editor is. And what to do with them: try to ignore them or bypass them or shut them up? Or talk to them, get to know them, understand what they want, and find some way to live (and write) with them? There is a false kind of freedom in saying or writing, without filtering, whatever I want that isn’t good or godly, and that’s not what I’m seeking. Instead, I’m searching for the true freedom to speak from my true self without fear. I want this in conversations, in relationships, and in my writing, too. And it’s in prayer that I think I’m beginning to get a clue.

The free writing exercises inspired by The Artists Way quickly became a kind of morning prayer journal for me: a happy deviation from what Cameron was actually encouraging. Spending 20 minutes early each morning just trying to tell God what I was thinking and feeling, and trying to listen for Him in response, was a wonderful thing for someone like me who has never had a regular ‘quiet time’ or devotional life. I’m convinced that no time trying to pray is wasted or a bad thing. But I look at those entries now and see how far from free they really are. I pose and filter in every conversation, and none so much as those sacred ones with my Maker. Maybe this says more about my spiritual life and sense of assurance before God than my abilities as a writer, but I think there’s a connection. I have a dim, immature understanding of reverence. The difference between saying, or writing, what I think someone wants to hear, and saying whatever is true may also be as far as the East from the West. Am I willing to believe that? And write, speak, pray, out of that belief?

Today, at least, I am. I will not shame you, little voice inside me, or suffer you to shame my true self. I will not crush you, or be crushed. I will not pretend you are not there, not some part of me. It’s a beautiful, bright autumn morning, and we’re going to let the fig leaves fall where they may.

(Drawing by Escher)

Shining Light into the Pit

Guest Blogger

Laura E. Steer joins the blog to share an editing challenge for a story she submitted to Relief.

Last year I was enrolled in a Non-Fiction Creative Writing class, but I didn’t have anything interesting to write about that had happened to me. After feeling sorry for myself that I’d never survived a natural disaster or overcome a terminal disease, I wrote the closest thing to fiction that I could get away with—a dream.

It was an epic tragedy. After journeying through miles of tunnel, I emerged into a sort of cavernous purgatory, where I found a young mentee of mine awaiting her sentence. The cave was complete with red lighting, smoke, and a gaping abyss that “beckoned its children to leap into its endlessness,” or, to take the drama out of it, a big hole representing eternal death. I begged the girl to escape with me, she begged me to stay in purgatory with her, and when I finally refused, she hurled herself into the pit. I then fashioned a story around the dream scene—blurbs of interactions between me and the girl, all of which built up to the emotional climax, which was the dream (and was much more exciting than anything I had to write about that had really happened).

I submitted it for publication at Relief, and it was accepted. Under the condition that I edit the dream scene. Heavily. Or remove it.

So I set to work editing. I had built the story around my dream. But the dream had morphed drastically from the abstract series of mental images produces by neurons firing back and forth in my brain that it had originally been. Somewhere along the way, I had written myself right into that endless pit and, at the bottom, found myself swimming in a vat of thick, sticky metaphor and imagery.

But the goal isn’t to fill in the Metaphor Pit with mounds of dry, subject-verb sentences. The goal is to shine a light into the pit and show its shape, to climb into it thoughtfully and chisel stories that are unique and stirring, worthy of being submitted to the public for scrutiny and applause.

I edited the dream scene down from 458 words to 87. It was scrutinized and applauded.


Laura E. Steer is a recent graduate of Malone University, where she majored in English (no, not to teach!) and minored in both Bible and Communication Arts. Though her ultimate goal is to pursue careers in editing and freelance writing, she has, in the meantime,accepted the position of Drama Director at her church. She also volunteers there as a middle-school youth leader, and plays keyboard and sings backup vocals for a Christian rock band. Beyond writing and music, Laura also enjoys consuming and creating visual art, namely photography. Her future plans include artistry, travel, and a possible move to Chicago. Laura's story "Phantom Child" can be found in Relief Issue 3.2.