Ambit Creative
Adele Annesi

Adele Annesi is an award-winning editor and writer for global Web content and print publications. She is an editor with the IT analysis firm Gartner, Inc., and has worked as a development editor for Scholastic Publishing. She is also a fiction and nonfiction book editor. As a press correspondent and columnist, Adele has written for newspapers, magazines, blogs and literary journals, including Hotmetalpress, and Trillium. She won Poetic Voices of America’s editor’s choice award, and presented the innovative "Art of Editing in Writing" workshop for the Ridgefield Writes 300th Anniversary program. A nominated member of Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in American Women, Adele is at work on a novel and several short stories. Visit my blogs, Word for Words, and Writing Linx or, see me on Facebook or LinkedIn

A Guild Art: Editing as Craft

We’re used to thinking of the writing process as “craft,” but editing is craft, too—a continual apprenticeship of a process that can be honed and perfected.

My family lives by the concept of craft. My cousins in Italy were tailors; so were my parents. One grandfather was a cobbler, another a stone mason who built the finest cobblestone driveway in my town—at least I think so. If you know anything about masonry, it’s brick by brick and stone by stone, selecting and fitting each piece into a place that seems made especially for it. The result is an enduring structure that’s lovely and lives in harmony with its surroundings. The process of selecting and fitting words is the craft side of editing.

In By Cunning and Craft: Sound Advice and Practical Wisdom for Fiction Writers, acclaimed author and teacher Peter Selgin says, “Writing is . . . an act of exploration through which we learn answers to questions raised by our raw material, by our characters and their situations.” During the editing process, we make sure the questions raised in our raw material are answered in writing that is precise enough to convey the answers well.

One mistake writers, beginning or otherwise, make is passive, imprecise language. Here’s an example: “The rail station roof was burning fiercely. In the streets beyond, bombs were exploding on nearby buildings. A formation of fighters bearing the round insignia of the Royal Air Force burst through the black smoke, skimming the rooftops, their wing cannons spitting fire.” This works better: “The rail station roof blazed, and bombs exploded in the streets. A Royal Air Force fighter squadron erupted from the black smoke and skimmed the rooftops, wing cannons spitting fire.”

If you look closely at a stone wall, you’ll see it’s more than boulders. Masons fill the gaps with smaller rocks and pebbles, based on their varied sizes and shapes. Selecting and fitting together the right words requires more precision when space is tight. For example, “He had known her for all of his life,” becomes “He knew her all his life,” or in a more literary and revealing form, “He had known her forever.”

To take precision editing to a higher level, try creating one thought that stands for a scene. This sample passage was longer, but here’s an excerpt: “Candles were counted among those rare treasures and necessities of war existence and needed to be used sparingly. But during that worst night of all

my war memories, not even a single match would light due to the lack of oxygen in the place where we were huddled together.” Here’s the revision: “We huddled together, treasured candles spread before us, but no match would light. Our oxygen was running out.” Why is this version better? The point is that these people are out of time.

Learning to select and arrange the right words means reading authors whose work achieves your goal. This differs from emulation because you want to learn the process not copy the outcome. The prevailing advice is to study the success stories—authors who have achieved what you want to achieve. That’s a good start but doesn’t yield the best result. Vinegar Hill author, A. Manette Ansay, advises that when writers examine a piece, they should ask, “What is it made of?” Taking an author’s writing apart enables you to see its construction so that during the editing process you can employ what you’ve learned. As with a shorter piece, let time pass before editing.

To further sharpen your skills and create a unique signature, don’t read the mega authors, or don’t read only best sellers. Instead, scan libraries and thrift shops for lesser-known writers who have accomplished what you’d like to, but in an original way. Ask the same what-is-it-made-of question, and take the writing apart to see how it’s constructed. Notice the placement of adjectives, nouns, and verbs. How and where are adverbs used, if at all? Replicate the patterns in your writing. If you’re unsure of a part of speech, consult Merriam-Webster Online.

Like all artisans, writers are always at the feet of others who have refined their craft. It’s inspiring to know there’s always more to learn as long as you’re open to being a constant apprentice. Doing so means being vulnerable, which also brings renewal. When we learn something, a light goes on in the soul; knowledge is gained, and wisdom can be applied.

There’s also a wonderful connectedness to all the writers and artisans who have gone before. I still have tailors, designers, and architects in my family. Some are known, others aspire to be, still others prefer the work to shine. Editing enables all three, and in that there’s art, as well as craft.

Exercise: Select a piece that’s giving you trouble and extract the concept you want to convey. If it’s too convoluted, write a note to yourself explaining what you want to say. Revise the original text using the principles outlined here.