Editors on Editing: Insights from a Working Editor, Part 2

by Matilda Butler on May 2, 2011

Editors on Editing LogoPost #8 – Women’s Memoirs, Editors on Editing – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

[Kendra and I are the Co-Coordinators for Story Circle Network’s Editorial Service that gives you easy access to a team of professional editors. These editors are attuned to the stories women write — memoirs as well as fiction. Your manuscript deserves respect…the best treatment…and an editor who understands you. That’s why SCN Editorial Service exists. When you’re ready for an editor, we’re ready for you.

Occasionally, we ask one of the SCN Editors to share an insight based on her experiences both as an editor and as a writer. Today, Mary Jo Doig gives a series of practical tips that every memoir writer needs to do before submitting an article for publication or a contest entry. This is the continuation of her blog post on Story Circle Network’s Telling HerStories blog where she lists four additional editing tips. Here’s the link to that post.


Memoir Writers: Consider These Tips to Make Your Words Sparkle

Mary Jo Doig

memoir-book-title1. Title. It’s a good practice to title to every memoir story or memoir vignette or memoir poem you write. If your work is in response to a call for a stated theme, such as “Lazy Summer Days,” for example, I recommend you not use any of the prompt words in your title. Ever. You can be certain the editor will receive numerous stories and poems with the same or similar title, which detracts significantly from the originality of each piece.

Some writers effortlessly think of titles, while others tell me they have a lot of trouble with them. An easy way to find a good title is to go back and re-read your story, seeking a title. You will, in nearly all cases, easily find one there. Remember, a title hints at what is to come. You want to intrigue your readers without giving it all away.
memoir, journaling, autobiography, memoir writing, memoir editing, memoir editor, writing2. Meet the submission deadline. This one is simple, self-explanatory, and extremely important. Make no exceptions to getting your work submitted before any stated deadline unless you have an absolutely infallible reason, and I don’t know one exists.
It’s wise to submit at least a few days before the deadline so you can avert any last-minute problems that can arise to abort your timely submission. Electricity does go out. Computer hard drives do die. Families do unexpectedly need your attention or help.
3. Sensory material. I urge at least one full re-read for what I call a sensory reading. I carefully read line by line looking for any opportunity to add a sensory word that will let my reader more clearly see, hear, taste, smell, or feel what I am saying.

In a recent blog posting I wrote a story paralleling my long winter post-surgery recuperation and my ficus tree’s suspected death. In my first draft I wrote: “I continued to water it [the ficus] and discovered a place in the kitchen by my bay window where the tree looked more natural, despite its bareness, and we both looked daily out into the long, chilling winter days. In January I had surgery and the days of recuperation were incredibly slow. Cards and notes from my family and friends began to encircle my bay window.”

When I did my sensory re-read, I found I wanted to let my reader see and feel what was outside the window and revised the last sentence to: “Cards and notes from my family and friends began to frame my bay window, which encircled the view of the secluded, young woods outside with its carpet of dried leaves on the frozen ground.” The view through my window, I found, was a perfect reflection of both my and my ficus’ inner world at that moment.
4. Other tips.
Rather than one last writing tip, I’ve put together eight brief, but important suggestions.

  • Be rested and your best self, whenever possible, when editing your work.
  • Place a piece of paper beneath each line as you read to help fully focus on one line at a time.
  • Allow yourself adequate lead-time for your editing.
  • Watch for repetition of the same word.
  • Use strong adjectives.
  • If a sentence reads rather long and convoluted, consider if it can better be two sentences.
  • Check uniformity of tense, particularly if you’re blending present and past tenses in parts of your story.
  • Old school said a period was followed by two spaces. Current usage is a single space after the end of a sentence. A small point, but one that matters to someone considering publishing your story.

Warmest writing and editing wishes,
Mary Jo Doig

PS If you’d like to read four more tips for editing your own article or contest entry, please join me on Story Circle Network’s Telling HerStories.

Memoir editorHave you ever wondered about what causes a person to become an editor? Here’s Mary Jo’s story:

In a transforming moment several years ago, I discovered that I deeply enjoy spending time with other women’s words. Without exception, I am drawn into each poem or story in a very personal way and deeply experience the images and feelings the story evokes. I seek to connect with the essence of each story or poem and then give each the same mindful, careful, and loving polish I apply to my favorite oak table.


DO YOU LIKE THIS ARTICLE? If so, be sure to click the LIKE button below. This helps us know what kinds of articles you would like to have in the future. Thanks. –Matilda and Kendra

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