Photograph courtesy of Andrew Neel, Unsplash.

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), American poet, writer, critic and satirist

When I started as a young writer, I was shocked to see my work edited if accepted and sometimes dramatically so. There were a few occasions when I didn’t even recognize it as my own.  I eventually got it. If I wanted to be sure my work was published the way I meant it to be, that it said what I meant it to say, the trick was to fine-tune content and flow, proofread and copy edit. I learned to let work gestate (a day or a week or more depending on length) and to repeat the editing process more than once. These habits were a boon to me when I was a columnist. It kept the editor from shooting work back to me saying “fix it,” which then allowed me to get on with something else.

As my own responsibilities grew to include editing, I began to see such efforts as the difference between a dabbler and a professional and a courtesy to the editors who often have an overwhelming amount of material to review.  Remember that most editorial offices are not well staffed and editors not well paid. Lit journals may be edited by volunteers who still need to clear enough time for their own lives and to produce enough of their own writing to make a living. These efforts are labors of love: a love of literature and a love of other writers and artists.

There’s always room for improvement. At seventy, I still work on refinements to my own writing, research, and editing skills and my management of various projects and commitments. For me this has become more cumbersome as I also juggle the progression of several catastrophic illness that result in severe fatigue. Here again though, success may be just a matter of continued refinements: workable routines and policies. Among the later, I am no longer as sanguine about work that is not submitted properly or professionally.

Tomorrow in Part ll: Ten-tips for self-editing

“Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing.  There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.” Hemingway as quoted by Arnold Samuelson, With Hemingway: a Year in Key West and Cuba (Random House, 1984), Page 11

Jamie Dedes:

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  1. I gifted my copy of Elements of Style to a young CIE IGCSE talented student of my class at Beaconhouse Newlands school Bani Gala where I taught IGCSE course for a year (2015/2016) .I hope it has helped her to write better.

    Liked by 1 person

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