Editorial Intervention: Thoughts from Craft Editor Julie Riddle

May 30, 2012 § 3 Comments


The good folks at the PressGang blog interviewed Brevity craft editor Julie Riddle recently, on finding work, accepting work, rejecting work, and working with the work to make it better.  Here are some of Julie’s guiding philosophies:

Weak submissions are numerous and are easy to identify (too didactic or simplistic; predictable or conventional; sweeping generalizations; weak structure or style; lack of voice). Strong submissions – pieces that are tight and cohesive, that have something new to say or that arrive at clarity/understanding in new ways, with language that is fresh and surprising – are rare and stand out.

It’s the work in the middle that can be challenging to make decisions about. Especially when there’s been a dearth of strong submissions: the mediocre stuff starts to look pretty good and I begin talking myself into thinking they’re better than perhaps they really are.

Deciding on submissions is largely done through gut instinct. I’m still learning to trust my instincts. I allow plenty of time to consider pieces – I read submissions several times over a period of days. Clarity often comes in the in-between time.

And ideas on how to approach the editing process:

  • Locate the strongest opening and closing paragraphs. They aren’t always the first and last paragraphs of the piece. Sometimes the essay begins in the second or third paragraph and the first sentences were the author clearing her throat. Sometimes an essay ends with the second-to-last paragraph and the final paragraph was the author wrapping up meaning with a pretty bow.
  • Eliminate redundancy. Sometimes writers don’t trust that the reader will “get” what they mean and will make their point twice, implicitly and explicitly.
  • Untangle awkward sentences. Move a paragraph or sentence elsewhere in the piece to tighten/clarify the section it had been in and support/enhance the section it joined.

More here.

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§ 3 Responses to Editorial Intervention: Thoughts from Craft Editor Julie Riddle

  • As someone who experienced Julie’s rejection, I appreciate reading this. wise words to take to heart. Maybe I’ll have better luck next time

  • cmmp says:

    For me… editing is the hardest part of my process. I can get it all out on a page or pages, but shaping that first draft into something that doesn’t feel like an inconvenient favor when given to someone to read is a whole other skill set I just don’t have. Also, most of the writing books out there spend an enormous time getting people to write and less time discussing the process of refinement. The second point about redundancy out fear for not being understood is really helpful. Thank you for this insight! I look forward to the discomfort of applying that tool… = )

    • Julie Riddle says:

      Great phrase about shaping your draft into something that doesn’t feel like an “inconvenient favor.” That part of writing – and the best
      part, in my opinion – is revision, which comes between writing the first draft and editing the near-final draft. I found Carol Bly’s insight, from “Beyond the Writer’s Workshop,” helpful: Revision is passionate deepening. We need to be our own empathic listener.

      I applaud you for “looking forward to the discomfort of applying a new tool” – stay with it ’til it becomes comfortable. It will. – Julie R.

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