“And when He comes, He will guide you into all truth…” (John 16:13)
A publisher once sent me a book to review for unknown reasons. The writer at one time had belonged to a church I had pastored, so maybe that was it. (Later, I was to learn that publishers ask authors to give them a list of people they want to review their book and comment. So, clearly, it was the writer’s idea.)
My review was not what they had wanted. I said, “He had a great idea. He makes some excellent points. But he desperately needed an editor.”
They never replied and never again asked me to review anything.
An editor can be a writer’s best friend. It is not politeness that prompts authors to praise their editor in the preface of their books. A good editor can cut through the verbiage, point out flaws in reasoning, find inaccuracies, and question claims. A good editor can spot a weakness in the plot and suggest a dozen ways to make the book better.
Most of us who try to write and then self-publish (which is what we are doing on the internet) serve as our own editors.
The result is often embarrassingly bad. I will read something from this blog written weeks earlier and spot typos or awkward sentences (the result of my attempts at self-editing, when I tried to cut out excess verbiage or redundancies by combining sentences and made a mess of it).
I read those and think, “I wrote that? Man, I need an editor. Or a wife.” (Please smile.)
I sat in a hospital room reading a book while the patient, a family member, was napping. Gradually I became aware that the author of this book desperately needed an editor to have gone over his manuscript. I was struck by one sentence in particular:
We must keep a healthy restraint upon our judgements because of our self-awareness of our own imperfections, and at the same time because of these self tendencies of ours to misread the text due to specks and logs, we must all the more be careful to evaluate every religious and cultural and personal doctrine that claims our affection and our loyalty so that we do not sacrifice the greater truth of the gospel of God for some particular lesser truth that does not deserve our loyalty.
I wanted to scream, “Where is your editor?” A ninth-grade teacher would have handed this back to the writer and said, “Cut it! Tighten it up. Shorten the sentences!”
I am not an editor nor the son of one, but I know padding when I see it.
Now, I once took a course on “writing sentences,” and know that long sentences can sometimes be needed, important, and even works of art.
This wasn’t one of them.
That sentence loses nothing if we shorten it:
We must restrain our judgements because of our imperfections. And, because of these tendencies of ours to misread the text, we must evaluate every doctrine that claims our loyalty lest we sacrifice the greater truth of the gospel for some lesser truth.
We lost over 40 words, cut the sentence into two, and still left the writer’s personality intact.
Later the same writer introduced an obscure point which he grew expansive about, but never told us what he was talking about. Finally, he seemed to arrive at an illustration. He wrote:
I remember talking to a deeply depressed person who told me a tragic story of personal and interpersonal failure. Not once did he blame anyone else for his downward spiral. He was completely to blame according to the terms of his own account. He concluded with a cynical write-off of his own worth.
A basic principle of good writing which editors constantly quote is: “Don’t describe an event; put us in it. Relive it.”
When the writer started with “I remember talking,” everything inside me went on the alert. I “just knew” a story was coming, and I do love a good story.
But there was no story. The writer kept the good tale to himself, leaving the reader frustrated. My counsel to the author would have been to tell the story or skip any reference to it altogether.
Editing is hard work. And nowhere near as fun or glamorous as writing. But editing is the difference in mediocre and great.
No one would promise that by editing your writing you elevate it to greatness. But what it will do is make it the best you can do. And that’s good enough for most of us.
I promise to return to this piece a couple of times in the next week to look for typos and errors and see if there are ways to tighten the prose and make it flow better.
One final note to those just beginning to write: Don’t let this discourage you. Open your computer and get started. Or grab a notebook and a pen. Get it on paper. The editing can come later, a day or two later. But at first, just spill your guts and get your “thing” on paper.
Have fun. I love to write. You too?
What’s that? You noticed, did you? I finished the article but never tied it in with the title. Originally, I had intended to write about how the Holy Spirit edits my speech (see Psalm 141:3, a prayer I offer up constantly) and censors my lesser intentions and convicts me when I have erred and directs my paths to the good stuff. And that’s certainly accurate.
The problem is the article became plenty long before I ever go to that part.
If you write regularly–or if you are constantly preparing sermons–then you have noticed how an idea occurs and you begin writing about it (or preparing a sermon) and soon it veers off into an unexpected channel and you end up with something different from what you had intended. Then, the issue becomes whether to return to your original vision or to go with the new thoughts.
In this case, I believe I’ll stop here. If you like the idea of the Holy Spirit being your editor, perhaps you can write about it yourself.