Category Archives: Editing

a thoughtful subordination of information

Close punctuation is not meant as a guide to stops and starts, like Dickens’s and Melville’s commas. The New Yorker isn’t asking you to pause and gasp for breath at every comma. That’s not what close punctuation is about. The commas are marking a thoughtful subordination of information.

Mary Norris


(you do) deserve to be here

(We should take a moment to note that The Awl receives the most pitches from the people who pitch the most—the same people who flood every open submissions box on the internet: dudes. Mostly white ones who are young but not that young, probably already working in the media or possibly in grad school, who have been taught from a very young age that not only do their voices deserve to be heard, but that people are waiting for them to speak. [And yet, why so loud, still?] And, sometimes, sure. But, very often, the people who are the most convinced that they and their work are a perfect fit for The Awl should strongly consider why they feel that way; nearly as often, the people who have convinced themselves that they don’t deserve to be here are exactly who should be pitching.)

—from The Awl‘s about page
via @annehelen

issue after issue after issue

The solutions are obvious. Stop making excuses. Stop saying women run publishing. Stop justifying the lack of parity in prominent publications that have the resources to address gender inequity. Stop parroting the weak notion that you’re simply publishing the best writing, regardless. There is ample evidence of the excellence of women writers. Publish more women writers. If women aren’t submitting to your publication or press, ask yourself why, deal with the answers even if those answers make you uncomfortable, and then reach out to women writers. If women don’t respond to your solicitations, go find other women. Keep doing that, issue after issue after issue. Read more widely. Create more inclusive measures of excellence. Ensure that books by men and women are being reviewed in equal numbers. Nominate more deserving women for the important awards. Deal with your resentment. Deal with your biases. Vigorously resist the urge to dismiss the gender problem. Make the effort and make the effort and make the effort until you no longer need to, until we don’t need to keep having this conversation.

—Roxane Gay,
from “Beyond the Measure of Men”
in Bad Feminist (171-172)

Baker & I collabbed on an Absolute Blank article: Tales From the Inbox: Baker & Beaver Discuss First Reading. That was fun. Oh, I also wrote this one: What Sets You Apart: On Valuing Your Own Experience. (That one practically killed me tbh. Writing! *shakes fist*)

Did I mention TC’s new issue? Probably not. I’ve been a flake lately. I wrote another SZ for it: Speak Your Truth. Need to poke one of the other editors to write something next issue; it’s turning into Beaver’s soapbox.

radical revision

For the same reason that most businesses fail slowly (by focusing on small details instead of big-picture stuff), most writers can’t get their work better than a certain level of passable mediocrity because they’re “optimizing” the small stuff before they hit on a project that’s worth optimizing. They approach revision by thinking about word choice and commas and cuts and line breaks, but those things can only make a poem or a novel or whatever 1-5% better. A radical revision that completely rethinks the scope or the flow or what have you could make it twice as good.

Elisa Gabbert


As a step toward one of my 2014 goals, I ordered some business cards from Moo. They arrived yesterday, two weeks exactly after I ordered them. Much faster than the estimated arrival date of January 28 (bet they do that so you’re all impressed when they arrive “early” 😉 ).

As I was figuring out what to put on them, I realized that I have approximately a zillion food photos and almost none of writerly things like notebooks and pens and laptops. So there’s a goal for 2014: take more photos of writerly things. In the end, after much futzing, I went with one simple design that incorporates a version of my cover image on the front and the Hunting of the Snark beaver on the back (what else?!).

Business Cards

why are you telling me this?

There are so many stories that I have read through the years that are just like “I got up in the morning. I had a really great lunch, then walked down to the beach and spent the afternoon there. There was an awesome sunset, then I went back and had a really great dinner. “As a reader you think, “Why are you telling me this? What do you want me to take away?”  

You should have a very clear sense, as a writer, of what your point is. You should be able to write one pithy sentence where you say, “What I want the reader to take away from my story is ________.” If you can fill that in, you need to do some more work. Keeping that question front of mind gives you a road map, a tool to help ensure that you’re on track as you write.

Don George


This—exact same wording and all—is what I’m thinking as I’m going through the slush and reading all the “Character sat thinking to self (miserable and/or feeling sorry for self, natch) and then s/he walked around a bit (while thinking to self) and then s/he sat somewhere else (and thought some more) and so on and so forth” stories.

Why are you telling me this? What do you want me to take away?

Stories need to have a point. No, a story is not “just a story.” If you’re telling someone a story, there has to be a reason. What is it?

(If there really is no point to your story, then your story is the writing version of that boring person who yakked your ear off while saying nothing at the last family gathering or party you attended. You know who I mean. You don’t want your story to be that person.)

The thing is, I think most writers do have something they want readers to take away from their stories (yes, even the ones who claim their story is “just a story”). The problem is that the reason for telling the story is not transferring to the page. It’s stuck in the writer’s brain. It’s Hemingway and his iceberg again. The writer is aware of the whole iceberg. The reader only sees the bit that’s sticking up above the water.

Sometimes writers forget that readers can’t see the part of the iceberg that doesn’t make it onto the page. Readers don’t need to see the whole iceberg, but they do need to see enough of it to understand why you’re telling them this story. But before you can decide how much is enough, first you need to know why you’re telling the story.

Fill in the blank: “What I want the reader to take away from my story is ________.”