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I'm a writer who works freelance designing and formatting books,
websites, greeting cards, postcards,and any other creative project someone throws at me
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 THE GOOD EDITOR
Ellie Searl

THEME: SAYING TOO MUCH
If you wouldn't write it and sign it, don't say it.
~Earl Wilson

A good cook knows how to edit.  Take meatloaf.  Most recipes call for some kind of filler, like breadcrumbs.  Extra breadcrumbs might stretch a meal, but they diminish flavor, texture, and appeal.  Instead of a scrumptious moist morsel, it's a dry, tasteless, stick-in-your-mouth lump.
A good writer knows how to edit.  Take Mark Twain.  In his short story, "Advice to Little Girls," he wrote, "Good little girls always show marked deference for the aged.  You ought never to 'sass' old people unless they 'sass' you first." 
Now that's succinct.
He could have written:  If you're a good little girl, you should be respectful, obsequious, and well-behaved when in the presence of anyone older than you are, like your parents, grandparents, and school teachers, and not only that, if you're a good little girl, you should never say nasty things to older people, like saying 'you're a poopy-face,' to a teacher or saying 'you have ugly brown moles on your neck' to your grandmother, even if she has ugly brown moles on her neck;  however, if one of these older people calls you a poopy-face first, well, then, you are entitled to call him or her a poopy-face right back. 
But he didn't. 
A good landscape architect knows how to edit.  Take the Chicago Botanic Gardens.  Their designers have created acres of floral magnificence.  Walled English gardens, ivy-covered fountains, lily ponds, flowering perennials.  A blooming wonderland.  
Understated in its overabundance. 
And a good conversationalist knows how to edit.  Take me.  I pride myself on knowing how to listen and respond—how to engage in conversation with sensitivity, diplomacy, and confidence.  I say all the right things at the right time.  I listen for cues and follow the path of my speaking partner, keeping my ego at bay. 
 I'm honest, yet prudent.  Curious, yet discrete.  Interested, yet unassuming.  I laugh, scowl, sigh, grin, cringe, smirk, weep, and wince—with accompanying gestures—at the appropriate times, exhibiting empathy, commitment, and compassion.
High enthusiasm.  Low maintenance.
Now that's darned good conversational editing. 
Too bad it's not always the case.
A few years ago at the Theatre of Western Springs, I played a Southern Ontario Amish wife and mother who wanted a telephone in Anne Chislett's production of "Quiet in the Land."  My role called for a Farm and Ranch dialect—the kind of Midwestern accent with thin vowels, clipped word endings, and a touch of nasal twang.  Country speak.  Not sophisticated.  Some people call it hillbilly.  I had trouble capturing the accent.  My mouth wouldn't cooperate—the words refused to take on the back-woods tone the director wanted.  I didn't know anyone with the accent.  Even an instructional CD didn't help.  Try as I might, I couldn't replicate the Farm and Ranch dialect.
Until I went to a wedding.  There, across the round table laden with roses, candles, silver, champagne, water carafes, and party favors, sat a lovely lady who spoke softly to those near her throughout the soup and salad courses.  My husband, who officiated at the wedding, and I spoke softly to those near us.  Finally, feeling unfriendly and slightly uncomfortable that we hadn't introduced ourselves, I looked directly into the eyes of the lovely lady and said, "We haven't met.  I'm Ellie Searl.  This is my husband Ed."
The lovely lady smiled and said, "Oh!  So glayd t' meecha.  Wadda be-udaful weddin', ya did der, Revrin Ed." 
 "That's it!"  I shouted.  "That's it!"  I pointed at her.
"Wa's et?"  She pulled her head back.
"Your accent.  Midwest Farm and Ranch.  You've got it!"  Excitement overtook common sense.  "It's perfect.  I'm supposed to talk just like you in an Amish play.  It's about a bunch of farmers."
Silence.  Everyone—stunned. 
"What's the matter with you?"  Ed whispered.  "You fall into a stupid pit or something?"
 There was no going back.  I couldn't apologize; it wasn't an accident. 
The lovely lady got up and left.
The others at the table resumed their meals, and soon the clicking of knives and forks overtook the embarrassing, hushed voices of obvious recrimination.
I don't remember much about the main course.
It might have been an unedited meatloaf.
Because I do remember the dry, tasteless, stick-in-my-mouth lump.


Years ago, before I began writing for real, I poured my artistic self into sewing clothes.  I preferred Vogue patterns. Their complicated sophisticated designs tested a technician's skill level and promised a challenge. I labored over each article of clothing, hoping the final piece would rival state-of-the-art fashion.

When I began my current art form of arranging and rearranging words into stories, I discovered writing is like crafting fabric into a unique garment - pleats, folds, and gathers stitched together so artfully the eye takes in the whole of the finished piece, not the parts.  A seamless design, one that captures the artist's skill, elevating the piece from sewing to couture, rather than ensnaring the artist in a critical mass of mismatched plaids and sloppy buttonholes. 

Now, as with tailoring, I am continually engaged in the dichotomy between good design and the need for editing.  Sometimes I become so involved in the process, perspective become hazy.   Questions arise:  Is my writing authentic, geared for an interested audience?  Or do I add self-serving embroidery, plopped onto the surface, exaggerating experiences to read better and more exciting than life itself?  Do I use efficient language?  Or do I add too much material, making the piece bulky and fat?  Is my voice genuine?  Consistent?  Do the textures of words make the reader think, or feel, or care?  Do I avoid cliché?   Or do I stitch triflings into faded cloth with worn-out thread?    Do the lines flow into each other with smooth and continuous motion, connecting the boundaries of detail and dialogue?  And when the piece is finished, are there intricate patterns woven into a sophisticated, state-of-the-art story?  

Would I wear It? 

Then, regardless of an uneven hem or a puckered lining, I search for fresh material and innovative techniques to fashion a new narrative - one with such fine stitching it might rise to haute couture - worthy of a reader's runway.    

EVS


                

"The precursor to today's Adirondack chair was designed by Thomas Lee in 1903. He was on vacation in Westport, New York, in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, and needed outdoor chairs for his summer home. He tested the first designs on his family.

The original Adirondack chair was made with eleven pieces of wood, cut from a single board. It had a straight back and seat, which were set at a slant to sit better on the steep mountain inclines of the area. It also featured wide armrests, which became a hallmark of the Adirondack chair.

After arriving at a final design for the "Westport plank chair," Lee offered it to Harry Bunnell, a carpenter friend in Westport, who was in need of a winter income. Bunnell quickly realized the chair was the perfect item to sell to Westport's summer residents, and apparently without asking Lee's permission, Bunnell filed for and received patent 794,777 in 1905.  Bunnell manufactured his plank chairs for the next twenty years. His "Westport Chairs" were all signed and made of hemlockin green or medium dark brown. The modern name refers to the Adirondack Mountains, which Westport is near." (Wikipedia)

 

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