A Real-Life Editing Demonstration

A few days ago I threw out a challenge: Who was brave enough submit a short piece of writing for me to publicly edit? Many quickly volunteered… to buy popcorn and watch.

One fearless soul sent me an e-mail with an attachment.

That fearless – and talented – soul is Aisha of Aisha’s Writings, who has permitted me to do a line edit on her roughly 200-word story below. It’s just what I was hoping for… a well-written piece that only needs what every good story or essay needs. A once-over by an editor.

A line edit is what it sounds like: The editor goes line by line through a body of text to eliminate extraneous words and tighten prose. Maybe flip a sentence or two. It happens after you complete the revisions your beta readers or agent suggested but before a copy editor scrubs for typos and punctuation.  A good line editor not only preserves the writer’s voice and message but removes obstacles to finding them. We are an invisible liaison between writer and reader.

Below is Aisha’s original piece, a moving and poignant narrative essay about humans’ innate ability to connect with other humans, no matter the barriers, followed by the edit demonstration.

Aisha’s story:

It was in Year 7, my first day at The Westminster School. I walked with slow steps towards my class. Searching my name in every class list, I was feeling nervous and shy. Talking to people instantly wasn’t my nature. I finally found my class and as I entered I saw new faces everywhere. There were Lebanese, Indian, Syrian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Philippines, Japanese, Turkish, Egyptian, Moroccan, and so on. I felt my stomach ache with tension because I knew it won’t be easy making friends.

As time flew I had not one or two but a whole bunch of friends. To name a few very close and good ones, Saba, Fajr, Maryam, Raeya, Hifza, Saba, Bushra, Arwa, Fatima, Amna, Ayesha, Samima, Faiza, Naima, and I could just go on writing down the names till forever. Years passed and my family of friends kept growing. There was no question of leaving anyone behind but rather walking side by side. We were truly a ‘One Big Family’.

And then the day came, it was the last day of our examination and it was time to say good bye. With a heavy heart and tears in my tears I hugged each one of the people I had ever met in TWS and left to face another challenging world all by myself.

With edits visible:

It was in Year 7., < It was my first day at The Westminster School. <<I walked with slow steps towards my class with hesitant steps. Searching my name in every class list, I was feeling felt nervous and shy. Talking to strangers people instantly wasn’t my nature. I finally found my class and, as I entered, I saw new faces everywhere. There were Lebanese, Indian, Syrian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Philippines Filipino, Japanese, Turkish, Egyptian, Moroccan, and so on. I felt m My stomach ached with tension. because I knew I It won’t wouldn’t be easy making friends.

As t Time flew, and soon I had not one or two but a whole bunch of friends. To name a few very close and good ones:, Saba, Fajr, Maryam, Raeya, Hifza, Saba, Bushra, Arwa, Fatima, Amna, Ayesha, Samima, Faiza, Naima, . and I could just go on writing down the names till ‘til forever. Years passed and my family of friends kept growing. There was n No question of leaving anyone one was left behind but, rather, we all walked ing side by side. We were truly a ‘One Big Family.

And then the day came., it was t The last day of our examinations, and it was time to say goodbye. With a heavy heart and tears in my tears eyes, I hugged each one of them people I had ever met in TWS and left to face another challenging world all by myself.

Edited version:

I walked toward class with hesitant steps. It was my first day at The Westminster School. Year 7. Searching my name in every class list, I felt nervous and shy. Talking to strangers wasn’t my nature. I finally found my class and, as I entered, I saw new faces everywhere. Lebanese, Indian, Syrian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Filipino, Japanese, Turkish, Egyptian, Moroccan. My stomach ached with tension. It wouldn’t be easy making friends.

Time flew, and soon I had not one or two but a whole bunch of friends. To name a few very close and good ones: Saba, Fajr, Maryam, Raeya, Hifza, Saba, Bushra, Arwa, Fatima, Amna, Ayesha, Samima, Faiza, Naima. I could go on writing names ‘til forever. Years passed and my family of friends kept growing. No one was left behind but, rather, we walked side by side. We were truly One Big Family.

And then the day came. The last day of examinations, and it was time to say good-bye. With heavy heart and tears in my eyes, I hugged each of them and left to face another challenging world by myself.

***

Outside of a demonstration like this one, I would only recommend these changes to Aisha, not implement them. You’ll note I did not make much effort to correct grammar. In fact, I introduced “errors” in spots, because doing so sharpened the emotional edge. In prose and narrative non-fiction, grammar is subservient to art. It’s not a textbook, so I didn’t edit as such.

Let’s give a big round of applause to Aisha for volunteering and for donating her talents to this exercise!

Image source: I can't remember. Sorry.

Image source: I can’t remember. Sorry.

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32 responses to “A Real-Life Editing Demonstration

  • Dirk Porsche

    That was cool. I really appreciate you craft. Or is it an art?

    • ericjbaker

      It’s a deep-seeded psychological hang-up that compels me to impose order upon things!

      But thanks for complimenting my disorder. I have many more where that came from.

      😉

  • Janna G. Noelle

    You did a good job with this. You definitely preserved her voice, which is always my biggest fear when submitting to the whims of editors.

    But then, as you said, the piece was already well written to begin with and just needed a bit of tidying up. Is it sadistic of me that I now want to see you tackle some copy that’s much less clean?

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks. Other than flipping the opening line to avoid the passive lead in, I took what is referred to as a “light hand.” It would have been possible to rewrite the whole thing in my own style, but then I wouldn’t be editing, I’d be remaking. That and I couldn’t find a spot for a a gory murder sequence.

      I’m quite savage at work, if you want to see a lot of red ink.

  • Uzoma

    You did a great job preserving Aisha’s voice. I also believe she did a wonderful job portraying such a scene in a few words. This is another lesson learnt; something new in the bag.

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks. I’m glad the main point got across, which was that this is Aisha’s piece, not mine.

      I know I’m behind on reading your two latest chapters, by the way. I hope to catch up this weekend.

  • Aerisa

    This is cool. I missed out (couldn’t think of a whole story in just 200 words, but now I know what one looks like, I’ll participate next time! Please offer again soon). Good job Aisha!

  • nrhatch

    I’m going to risk receipt of “hate mail” and do a further edit to excise a few more “was” and “were” verbs (a pet peeve of mine):

    BEFORE: It was in Year 7, my first day at The Westminster School. I walked with slow steps towards my class. Searching my name in every class list, I was feeling nervous and shy. Talking to people instantly wasn’t my nature. ~ 3

    AFTER: I walked toward class with hesitant steps. It was my first day at The Westminster School. Year 7. Searching my name in every class list, I felt nervous and shy. Talking to strangers wasn’t my nature. ~ 2

    MY EDIT: On my first day at The Westminster School, Year 7, I walked with slow steps to class. Scanning class lists for my name caused my stomach to flutter in nervous anticipation. Everywhere I looked, I saw strangers. ~ 0

    • ericjbaker

      %&$##^!

      Whew. Glad I got all that hate out of the way. 😉

      I agree that Aisha’s writing style is a bit formal compared to mine, which lends it a slightly passive tone (which hasn’t stopped Stephanie Meyer from reaping untold millions!). I also like your version. However, I think it veers into the territory of rewriting. When I edit another writer’s work (in a non-business setting), I try to be invisible to the point that it’s the same piece when I’m done, just a couple of ounces lighter. I have to resist thinking, “How would I have written this?”

      Thank you for your thoughts and ideas, hate-inspiring though they may be. I have instructed Ygor to open and deal with all the hate mail. Unfortunately, Ygor can’t read, but he does like the taste of envelopes and letterhead.

      • nrhatch

        Please thank Ygor for me. It is lovely to have an assistant, even one who can’t read.

        Hate mail can be so tedious and time consuming to handle on my own. I tend to rewrite it so that it is no longer recognizable to the sender, but is far more palatable to the intended recipient . . . me! :mrgreen:

  • Dave

    Enjoyed seeing the results of your work, Eric. Great job enhancing an already well-written piece. Reminds me of how much we, as writers, need people like you to improve our writing. Thanks for sharing this exercise.

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks! I don’t know if you read the other comments, but this was a “light hand” edit. If I’m working on a project, I try to get a feel from the writer what they want. after all, it’s not my story. Regarding the freelance project I’m doing right now, I asked the writer what approach she wanted, and her reply was “be brutal.”

      Not a lot of writers have the stones to want that.

      • Dave

        If I’m going to invest in an editor, I’d say the same thing. I don’t need to have my ego stroked, I want a great book. If I can ever get mine completed to a point where I’m not embarrassed, I’d love to use your services. And of course, I’d want you to “be brutal”. 🙂

  • Jill Weatherholt

    I loved this exercise, Eric. There’s nothing better than cutting words. Thank you Aisha for being brave enough to face the Mole Man!

  • Aisha Id

    Thanks Eric! I’m amazed how well you edited my piece of writing while not changing the actual theme of it 🙂

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks for playing along! As I said in the email, it’s a perfect example because it is not my writing style or something I have the experience or perspective to write, so it was critical that it remained your piece throughout the process.

  • Aisha Id

    And thanks to everyone else for your appreciation. It means a lot to me 🙂

  • Richard Leonard

    Very interesting. Very happy to see how you did this. I’m particularly interested in the editing notation such as < and << which apparently indicate a changed order of sentences (?) and I'm sure there are many other things I'm not aware of that would be useful to know. I think I need to get a book or do a proper editing course. All I do now is read it, dislike it and change it!

    • ericjbaker

      Good perception on the notations. I just made those up because there’s no way for me to use the correct notation on WordPress. The symbols are unavailable.

      Getting an eye for editing simply takes practice. I’ve been doing it professionally for a few years, so the dead weight jumps out at you (not so easy with one’s own writing, of course).

  • 1WriteWay

    Thanks to both of you, Eric and Aisha! Even though Aisha’s story was already well-written, this was a great example of how a good editor can make just the right edits to make the piece that much better. So, when you go totally freelance, will your business be called Mole Man Edits? Surely, Mole Man will be somewhere in your business name 🙂

  • wantonwordflirt

    Thank you to Aisha and Eric for your joint effort in showing us editing at work! Appreciate both your efforts , as well as all of the comments that followed.

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