How an Editor Hammered Me and My Guest Post into Shape

Editing a guest post

A guest post by PJ Reece of PjReece.ca

“Wow!  This looks awesome, PJ.”

That’s Mary Jaksch getting all excited in an email.  I had sent her my newly hatched eBook called STORY STRUCTURE TO DIE FOR.  Mary continues:

“Do you want to write a guest post for Write to Done about ‘story structure’?”

Does a blogger like backlinks?  Does an author want to see his book appear on Page 1 of Google?  Does “i” come before “e” except after “c”?  Do I want to…?

LATER THAT SAME MINUTE:
“Dear Mary…  It would be my pleasure to write a guest blog about “story structure” for Write to Done.  I’ll start immediately.” ~ PJ

I’ve lived by writing for over twenty years.  Three books published with the traditional press, hundreds of hours of broadcast television scripts, a feature film on the big screen, newspaper and magazine articles a-plenty, almost three years a blogger, and most recently this new eBook on story structure…I should have Mary’s piece written by lunch.

THREE DAYS LATER:
“Dear Mary…  Here’s a draft of my guest post: ‘Going Out on a Limb for Story Structure’ – enjoy!”  ~ PJ

LATER THAT DAY:
“Hi, PJ.  Your proposed guest post has an interesting topic.  However, I think the writing could be a lot sharper.  Please read Juicy Writing: How to Glue Readers to the Page and put your post under the knife.  See if you can write what you want to say much simpler.  Please get back to me once you’ve completed the changes.  Thanks.  ~ Mary.

Oh.  Mary Jaksch doesn’t like it.  Well, excuuuse me.  It reads well enough to me.  What’s more, my wife read it and she’s no push-over.  I’ll assume that Mary got up on the wrong side of the bed.  With a name like Jaksch, maybe she don’t speak so good English.  I must be nice.  Be nice, PJ.

IMMEDIATE REPLY:

“Dear Mary…  Will do!” ~ PJ

Upon reviewing my piece, I have to admit that Mary might be right.  My 900 words are a confusion of different threads, some psychological, some esoteric.  I was trying to be oh-so clever.  Sharpening isn’t going to fix it—I’ll have to start over.  Show me the manuscript that can’t benefit from a rewrite.  Good on ya, Mary!  (See—I’m not so hard to get along with.)

THREE DAYS LATER:

“Dear Mary…  You were quite right about the first draft.  I was aware of being off-centre with my approach.  I’ve been writing about Story Structure for so long that I was happy to be coming at it with more abandon.  Anyway, I started fresh and decided to let Hemingway help me out.  Here it is: Story Structure to Die for (in a nutshell). Let me know what you think.  ~ PJ.”

AN HOUR LATER:
“That’s better, PJ.  Now hunt down and kill all ‘meta comments’, such as: ‘I want to present…’ (There’s no need to tell people what you’re going to do.  Just do it!)”

Come on, Mary!  I’m just being conversational.  ‘Write like you speak’—that’s what the writing gurus tell us.  My favourite poet begins one of his most famous poems with a ‘meta comment’:  “I want to write about faith…” (David White).  But it’s Mary’s web site, her blog, she can #*!!&*! do what she wants.  Yet, in a way, I see that she’s right.  I like to think of myself as a minimalist—jump right in—cut to the chase—slash and burn.

NEXT DAY:

“Dear Mary…  Search & Destroy mission accomplished.  Meta comments gone.  Please check it out.  Any idea when this post will appear?” ~ PJ

REPLY EMAIL:

“Hi, PJ.  I like the topic but your writing needs to be a lot tighter and simpler.  Have you looked at how to strip each sentence and make it simple and to the point? I know you’ve got the talent to lift your writing game.  Please study Juicy Writing: How to Glue Readers to the Page and apply it to every sentence.”

I’m don’t have time for this, Mary!  ‘Please study this article…’  Who is this Mary Jaksch?  I bet I’ve been writing longer than she has.  And while she sends me to Writing 101, my own blog is suffering from lack of attention.  Not to mention my wife.  She won’t even help me anymore; she’s sick of me nattering on about “story structure”.  But I know what the problem is—this is a sophisticated subject.  This isn’t just another nuts & bolts article.  I’m talking about the mystical heart of a story!  Mary!

Maybe she doesn’t get it.  Maybe no one gets it!  There’s a frightening thought.  I mean, if Mary (who’s obviously intelligent) doesn’t get it, what chance is there that…  Maybe it’s hopeless.  Maybe I should just tell Mary to take this post and…

“Dear Mary…  It’s good that you’re pushing me like this.  This theory of mine is confounded by the presence of a blind spot in the human organism.  So clarity is everything.  If it’s not clear, then let’s get it clear.  I accept the challenge!  Back atcha soon. ~ PJ

I read the damn thing again.  On one level it sounds fine, but if I read it with the remove of a reader, it’s a steaming heap of apocryphal nonsense.  It’s still a jumble; there’s no design.  It doesn’t add up.  Thank god, Mary is badgering me.  She’s saving me from embarrassment.  This is my Holy Grail, to be a guest-poster on Write to Done.  I don’t want to blow it.

To give Mary credit, it can’t be easy rejecting a guest post.  I wish more writing would get rejected.  The Internet is lousy with mediocre writing, in my humble opinion.  Mary’s doing me a huge favour, and I know it.

I’ve forgotten how much a writer needs a “Mary” breathing down their neck.  It’s rare that a writer creates Art without the help of an editor.  We writers are so often under the influence of our precious “muse” that we get lost in our subjectivity.  I once wrote an entire novel without realizing what it was about—until my editor pointed it out.

I must narrow my sights and not try to say so much.  And most importantly, what exactly am I trying to say?  I’m starting from scratch.  Write to Done—I get it now.  Because I ain’t done yet.

FOUR DAYS LATER:
Dear Mary…  Thank you again for prodding me with your Zen stick.  I think this version is tight and good.  And I hope you think so, too.  ~ PJ

LATER…(after Mary gets out of bed on the right side):
“WOW – PJ, I can’t recognize the writer!  I’ll take this one.” ~ Mary Jaksch

POST-MORTEM:

  • Accepting rejection
  • rolling with the punches
  • being nice
  • writing til it’s done

…these are attitudes a writer will develop on the way to becoming successful.  And sometimes a writer forgets!  My experience at Write to Done was a powerful reminder.

It’s rare to encounter an editor who is strong enough in her own wisdom to keep sending the writer back to the drawing board.  She knows the writer’s ego is fragile.  It can’t be easy on her.  She also knows that when a deadline is looming, “tough love” is the only way to get results.

Thanks, Mary!

PJ Reece’s book ‘Story Structure to Die For‘ is a great resource for writers. It has been downloaded over 2,000 times. Please go here to download it for free.

 

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PJ Reece

"PJ Reece has been a professional writer for 25 years. His latest book,"Story Structure Expedition: Journey to the Heart of a Story" is now available on Amazon."

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