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My Own Private Editor

A new calm settles into our Canadian lives, or at least into mine – I heard our Prime Minister on the radio this afternoon and didn’t rush to turn him off.   The next excitement: the U.S. election, which looks as if it will have an extremely happy ending.  Someone sent me pictures of Obama with his children, bending to listen gravely to one daughter, grinning that spectacular grin while driving a bumper car with the other … 

If Hollywood had invented him, we wouldn’t believe him.  In fact, Hollywood did, or New York – remember when “The West Wing” depicted a brilliant, accomplished, hard-working, plainspoken, left-wing outsider, a Latino, running to replace the heavenly Jed Bartlett as president?  “If only,” we all sighed, or at least I did.  And only a few years later, here he is, and he’s almost too good to be true.

He will inherit such a phenomenal mess – why does such a fine man want that job?  
Well, no more obsessing about politics: back to work.  I regularly check out the periodicals for writers at my local magazine store (while also pawing furtively through the fashion mags and today through Brad Pitt’s pictures of the mother of his children in “W” – how close to those plump lips can the camera go?  Find out in “W” but here’s a clue: pretty damn close.) The new issue of “the Writer” magazine was titled “MEMOIR – FIND THE RIGHT APPROACH” so I bought it and am reading an article about structuring your memoir.  The problem with writer’s magazines, and with all the great books about writing too, is that those of us in permanent avoidance mode can spend lots of time reading about writing instead of actually writing, and still feel as if we’re working.  As I am right now.
Only joking.  It’s Sunday, my reading day – I actually take a day of rest, at least from writing, in order to read.  Last week I also took a break from my own memoir – for which I am trying to find the structure – to work on a shorter essay I pulled from my files.  It’s about my life as an actor, and I did a first draft five or six years ago.  I’m not sure if it’s harder to take the bones of an old piece and pull it apart, or to start fresh, but this time I did the former.  
After a few drafts, I did what I often do when a new piece reaches a certain stage – I emailed it to my friend Margaret Davidson, an editor who lives in Vancouver.  What a valuable gift she gives me each time she reads.  Just mailing it off helps – as soon as I’ve sent it, I read it again, trying to see it through her eyes.  And then a response comes, often within the hour, with her thoughtful analysis of what I’m trying to do and where I’m going wrong (and, once in a while, where I’m doing something that works.)  This time she sent it back with giant chunks highlighted in orange which she suggested I cut, and other parts underlined in blue which needed fixing.  And I agreed with every cut and fix.  
Many drafts to go, but I’ve had a great boost.  A student told me last week that she’d always thought you should just get on with your writing and not need an editor’s help.  But at last, she said, she realised that there was nothing wrong with needing an outside viewpoint.  Not only is there nothing wrong with it, but it’s essential.  We often have no idea how much good editors have helped cut, shape and refashion famous manuscripts, propelling them to success.  
Here’s to the unsung heroes of the writing trade: the editors.  Thanks to you all, and thanks particularly to Margaret, my very own set of intelligent eyeballs attached to a precise and invaluable brain.  
  

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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