Tag Archive for revision

How A Good Editor Works

At a crucial juncture after the climactic scene when the subplot needed attention, his novel went in an unexpected direction.  As his editor, I suggested removing the newly-introduced subplot to naturally steer the protagonist to the crucial needs of the woman he loved, the only issue to be addressed for final resolution.  The author read my notes and heard my rationale, yet remained skeptical.

Weeks later during revisions, we chatted about a software challenge, and he brought up his continued attachment to the new subplot.  I further explained my emotional reaction and logical reasoning.  He stated his case from a different angle, and I could tell that it was not only important to him but also to the future of a brewing sequel.

red.100 - goodI felt an idea rise like a jolt of electricity, flashing up my spine to the top of my head.  I shared the basic premise of how the setup of the subplot could be incorporated earlier.  He responded encouragingly.  I shared the entire brainstorm.  He added his creativity to it, and the issue was suddenly a beautiful turning point, one that solved another plot issue too.

Delighted, we laughed, and then he said, “Maybe I’m naïve, but I’ve got to ask:  Is this the way a normal editor works?”

“In my opinion, yes.  A good one anyway.”

I explained good editors work differently.  After acknowledging my client’s work with editors on his other books—usually without contact beyond rote emails and corrections in the text, many of which were computer-generated—I shared about those who inspired me to do the work I’ve chosen to do.

I remembered when my high school English teacher made me editor of the yearbook.  I said, “But I don’t know how to do that,” and he confirmed, “Sure you do.  You’ll be great!”  And that was that.  I knew I could trust him for guidance.

In addition to new skills, he taught me a good editor has a fearlessness to encourage creativity’s experimentation and bold ideas in collaboration. My teacher recognized and affirmed the good, then build upon it.

Among college professors and editors for print media, corporate communications, and theatrical productions, my greatest mentor was a magazine editor who was clear in direction before I began my work and supportive in the process through revision.  Once she took her turn with my copy as she readied it for print, I was hard pressed to find her changes.

She taught me to build relationship on clear vision to encourage writers and to hone my editorial skills to enhance the writing, elevating both the writer’s voice and the final product’s intended message.

The best editing isn’t a one-way street where some unseen person puts their mark on a writer’s work.  From both editors and clients I’ve worked with, I’ve learned it’s imperative to have a friendly relationship with both the writing and the writer.  Don’t turn the process competitive or argumentative with ego.  The union of writer and editor is collaborative with clear communication, keen listening, and openness to discovery and growth.  Yes, editing is a science in the sense of the rules and formats to follow, but it’s also creative.

To the writer on the phone, I added, “This is how I work.  It works well for me and for many others too.”

He agreed, parting with the promise of a quick return of the revisions and a commitment to begin work on his next book while I edited the current one.

Creative Coaching and Editing

Author’s Focus Group Gives Clarity For Completion

“I was at that stage of feeling ‘this book is just embarrassing!’” Ann J. Temkin said after completing major revisions on her first book, Sight in the Sandstorm: Jesus in His World and Mine.

I suggested I facilitate a focus group. She agreed, adding, “My greatest fear Is not that they will hate it—which would mean it had impact—but that they would just find it uninteresting, not moving, not new—a waste of time and effort.”

Focus GroupIn the book, Jesus, profoundly human and Jewish, is viewed within the context of the world in which he lived. Stories with fleshed out biblical characters braid together with tales from the author’s life in a vivid, compelling account.

We ended up with a pair of focus groups. One included the three women she worked with as she developed the first draft in my Creative Writers’ Workshop. They represent different faith backgrounds from childhoods in the northeast and midwest regions of the US, as well as east Africa.

For the other group, we wanted people of different ages and genders who did not know her. Invited were a Jewish woman, a man in his 20s of conservative Christian faith, and another in his 60s raised in a Southern Baptist church who later left the church to combine his beliefs with new thought teachings. Ann was surprised when they all accepted.

The rough manuscript was delivered to members three weeks in advance with a list of questions, including: Is the book interesting? How did you react to the different exposition of gospel stories? Was there any confusion of time or place? Any inaccuracies? And did the braiding of historical tales and my life stories work?

“The experience was very good,” Ann said of the process. Though I facilitated both groups, she felt free to be active, even asking after much positive feedback, “Since a lot of effort, time, and money will be required for me to publish this book, is it worth it?” As she had through each two-hour meeting, Ann remain neutral, poised for the truth. She beamed as each group affirmed a passionate “Yes!”

After concluding both sessions in five days, I could sense her happiness, as well as the weight of the new input she received. As her coach and editor, I had no doubt she could handle it.

Ann deeply appreciated the generous gift of time and effort these busy individuals gave in preparing, contemplating and sharing, even writing insightful comments in their manuscripts. She took each person’s remarks very seriously.

“I’ve made quite a lot of changes to help flow and clarity, and I’ve completely rewritten two chapters that were too heavy on content without enough life to them.” And from their suggestions, she also created her title.

Now, there’s one more read-through for each of us, then perhaps minor revisions. While I copy edit for publication, Ann will complete work with designer Laura Nalesnik on the cover from a vision she received in meditation.

“I never get visions in meditation,” she exclaimed telling me of her cover idea.

And she’s never published a book, but now, with clear focus, she will…soon.

Sight in the Sandstorm: Jesus in His World and Mine by Ann J. Temkin is available in softcover and e-book.

Contact Wayne to facilitate a focus group for your book or writing project.

Recipe for Robust Revision

Sign up for classes: Writing MemoirScreenwriting, Conquering Writer’s Block, and Creative Writers Workshop.


As a person new to grilling, I recalled a truth that once meat is cooked, it remains more flavorful if it rests before cutting and serving. This allows the juices which escaped to the middle while over the flames to reestablish themselves throughout, bringing moisture to every bit. If you cut into it while the meat is too hot, much of this valuable flavor will dribble out. So toss the salad, refresh beverages, and give a word of thanks as you inhale the aroma before taking the first bite.

grilling meatThe same is true for your writing. Like resting the roast, rest your draft before revising. And while it cools down, rest yourself. Taking a break from the piece is vital before revision to clear your perceptions and come back fresh. 24 hours will do, but I like 48. If under a tight deadline, change your perspective through working on something else, having lunch, reading a bit, or getting away from your writing desk by exercising, meditating or talking to a friend.

Return to your writing with a renewed appetite to genuinely experience its flavor. As you savor, you can easily notice what parts are juicy and which ones need an infusion of creative essence. Consider taking steps with revision beginning with a perusal of the work as a whole, making broad directives in the margin like “edit down,” “choose one,” “divide sentences,” “awkward,” and a personal favorite, “?” Don’t cut into it just yet. Examine it before scrutinizing line-by-line, before chewing on it word-by-word.

With grilling, the results rest with the fire and timing. Robust revision involves passion and perseverance with plenty of room for patience.

Teen Writer Success: College Hopeful

*Academic Coaching available by appointment

The flustered Mom called me eager for help with her daughter Lily’s college application process.

teen writer success 2She mentioned Lily was an aspiring fashion designer who maintained good grades alongside strong extracurricular activities, but struggled with writing.

When we met, I was puzzled after reading the first of four essays. Her mom saw the bewilderment on my face and slunk out the door.

On the topic of a proud moment in school, the teen’s messy essay explained leaving art class and being alone in the hallway when she heard her name announced over the intercom.  She’d been chosen for the homecoming court.  Lily went on to write that she didn’t win, but she was proud of being thought of as pretty.

Looking up from the paper, I found Lily poised and smiling, no doubt like she had been on the football field during halftime.

I affirmed that, yes, she is a lovely young woman, but she wasn’t applying to modeling school.  More importantly, the essay had no interaction, no moment showing her character other than being flattered, much less something that exemplified her integrity in academic or artistic endeavors.  It didn’t illustrate her hard work or pride in her efforts.  The only attribute highlighted was simply looking good.

She argued with me, so I pulled out my best impersonation of Project Runway’s Tim Gunn to let her know the judges would look for a focused message and strong writing skills.  It was time to show herself in a garment of her accomplishments and goals.  “After the entrance committee reads this, do you want to be in for the big college career, or do you want to be out and go home from crafting a pretty, but shallow story?”

She wilted into her thoughts, reluctantly agreed, then bellowed, “But I don’t know what to write!”

“Come on! Tell me one proud moment now.”

“Ah, well, I dunno.  I guess winning Governor’s Honors in art and going to camp—“

“Great!” I shouted as I wrote it down.  “Another!”

writing and sketching“When I accepted my school’s art award and saw the look on Mom and Dad’s—“

“Excellent!   Again!”

“Um, working with Habitat for Humanity then going to the ceremony and being hugged by the single mother who—“

“Splendid!  You have three to choose from!”

“But which one?” she whined.

“Any of them!  What one begs to be written?”

The wheels raced in her head. “I guess the house where I had fun painting the interior after nailing on part of the roof, but I didn’t expect the new owner’s joy to make me cry.”

“Great!” I said, holding up my hand for a high-five before adding, “You can do this!”

Her mom popped in with a hesitant smile, “Going good?”

“Yes, Mom.” Lily genuinely smiled.

“We have a new topic and are underway on Essay 1.”

The mother smiled, and when Lily lowered her head to begin writing, Mom winked at me and mouthed “thank you!”

Looks won’t get anyone accepted into their top-tier college choices, but after writer’s coaching, schedule management skill work, and learning the importance of revision, Lily was in.  All of them.  She had a full court of great opportunities to choose from.  How beautiful.

Read other success stories about academic coaching for immediate needs, a teen needing confidence, another needing an attitude adjustment, and a real job seeker.
Disclaimer —  It’s true: writers write what they know, and, yes, I write from my experiences.  However, all characters and situations in my stories are fictitious fusions, creative amalgamations.  Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, or real interactions with me are purely coincidental.