A friend recently showed me a story she had written. The touching story was written straight from her heart, and I suggested it could be a valued contribution to one of the many websites that feature inspirational writings. “But before you submit it, you need to tighten it up and focus it a bit,” I suggested.
She took a deep breath and blurted out, “I’ll never edit this, or anything else. It will just have to stay as it is, and I think it sounds like me; like I talk.” She went on to explain that she couldn’t edit it even if she wanted to, because she has no idea where to start, or how to do it.
Touché! It does indeed sound as if she wrote it, and I was pained to realize that my words had provoked the defensiveness I heard in her tone. The story is written exactly as she speaks, and she speaks with energizing passion. For the purposes of sharing with friends and family, her story doesn’t need to be edited, and may be appreciated all the more, precisely because it does sound exactly like her. However, those who don’t know her may become distracted in spots by conversational rambling, and a good edit will increase the likelihood that it will appear on one of those websites to brighten the day for countless others.
Her story is a good test of my mantra that any lifestory you write is okay. This is a good place to put that message in context. Any lifestory you write is better than not writing anything. Your first priority should always be to get stories written, in whatever form or shape they take. Once they are written, you have the choice of going back and revising them, or simply leaving them as they are. Neither choice is better than the other, and your choice should be guided by your purpose in writing as well as your interests and abilities. If you have no interest in editing them, so be it. That’s okay!
On the other hand, if you do want to polish and tighten them, but you aren’t sure how to go about it, stay tuned to this blog for tips that will guide you down that path so you can deliver crisply written stories that still sound “exactly like you talk.”
The fact is that as they listen, people filter out a lot of the rambling everyone does in conversation and remember only the underlying story. This filtering is harder to do when you read. Most writers can cut the word count in the first draft of a story by 30% to 60% and generate more feedback that “This really sounds like you,” than would happen if people read transcripts of actual conversation! The edited version filters out all the things that people don’t hear when you talk. Fortunately, when people read lifestories, they generally understand the difference between carefully crafted edits and raw accounts that reflect the spontaneous nature of the writer, and appreciate either one for what it is, so you can't go wrong with either choice.
A third possibility is to have a friend or family member edit them for you. Just be sure, if you chose this third option, not to give away ownership of the story. It’s still your story, and any editing should be of style, spelling and grammar, not content. Before you agree to let someone else work on your writing, be sure you can trust the person to respect your views. Don’t let others talk you into changing facts and feelings that reflect your own experience and truth.
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal