When I first dreamed of writing a novel, in those early days before I understood the enormity of the task, I attended a small writers’ conference. My first. It was an all-day event at a local university. The focus of workshops ran the spectrum from literary writing to genre, from non-fiction to poetry. Topics, too, varied broadly but I only remember one with any degree of detail.
Our speaker on editing was a freelance writer who mainly sold articles to a highly popular food magazine. After a brief introduction, she placed a transparency on the glass plate of the overhead and projected it on to the screen. The typewritten article, one she had sold for a nice sum, was about cooking trout.
We sat in a large, sunny room in seats too far from the blurry screen. Timidly, I sat in the last row, so far back that I couldn’t see the words. But I saw the format. It was the closest I’d been to a behind-the-scenes look at an article for publication and my blood raced.
The writer read a few lines aloud then talked about her opening. I can still hear her jittery voice. Obviously, she was more comfortable at her desk tapping typewriter keys than in front of fifty or so aspiring writers. Still, with a great deal of grit, she guided us through the article.
She wasn’t happy with her preliminary opening, she said. It didn’t have the strength, the power she wanted. She put up another transparency. I squinted. Dark lines slashed through many of the words of her original version. “Weak words,’ she said, and replaced them.
Over the next hour, she dissected the first then the second draft of her article, showing just how she edited, explaining every change made, and why.
Perhaps, with all that article dissection, I should have learned how to cook trout. Instead, I learned to cook words and to understand the meaning of edit.
A well-written story, fiction or non, isn’t just written. Words must often be hand-picked and their placement well-planned. The writer must carefully craft the story so that it leads the reader on a journey. The journey may lead to a place of happily ever after, or to a plate of succulent trout.
It was a strong realization for one aspiring writer. ∞