December 04, 2004

On Writing Well

Sometimes a reminder comes when you think you're answering a call from a creditor. Like tonight, for me.

I began my mental countdown-to-hangup: onethousandone, onethousandtwo, onethousandandCLICK, but I never got that far. A familiar voice answered a, "Hello, Jeneane," to my "Hello?"

"Ceil!!"

I had been thinking about Ceil just last week. We hadn't spoken in what, a year? Two? I'd received the yellow postcard announcing her move from Rochester to Florida, but, no surprise to Ceil, I'd lost it a week after it came. It went the way of all my important correspondence--I put it somewhere safe.

The timeliness of Ceil's call was uncanny. I'd been thinking about her because of my new business venture. You see, Ceil taught me everything I know about writing well. She would tell you, no, not true, because she's modest that way.

A professional editor, Ceil began editing me when I was 22 and just starting out in a publishing business geared to the education market. It was Ceil's job to tweak, refine, help define, and bless every piece of writing that left our amateur paws.

In those days, editing was on hard copy, and Ceil used a color scheme along with proofreader marks to indicate the difference between a must-do edit (a typo or grammatical faux-pas) and a suggested edit (poor construction, lame writing). A third color would indicate inconsistencies throughout a document--as in, pick a way and stick with it--I recommend you do it THIS way.

And she was always right.

Over the next several years, a less mechanical form of communication developed between us--as it often does between writers and editors working closely together--a vibe that allows the two to anticipate meaning and intention (on her part) and self-correct according to the editor's keen standards (on my part).

As a writer, a young writer at that time, having the eagle eye of a professional editor--not just for errors, but also for awkwardness and sensibility--was career altering. Really. For years after we stopped working together regularly, I would hear Ceil's voice, see her perfectly-shaped proofer's marks, intuitively mark my own awkward sentences in green, reconfigure them, rethink them, and usually remove them, according to her now-ingrained standards.

In my 30s, what I learned from Ceil became so much a part of my own professional writer's soul, that I stopped hearing her voice, seeing her marks, coloring my phrases. What she taught me became inherent. I carry it with me. It informs what I say even now, even here.

But Ceil is more than a top-notch editor. She is a wise woman, well-traveled through business and life, with an eye as finely tuned to people and intentions as to misdirected prose. I am so glad I know her.

I told Ceil about weblogging today. I've urged her to jump on the party bus with us. Because she has a lot to say. It's her turn to come out from behind the color-coded key and astute corrections and have her say. Exercise her own voice. Maybe even scream some.

And in the mean time, if you're looking for editing help from the best editor you've never met, email me and I'll put you in touch with Ceil.

Thank you, Ceil. For everything.

(p.s., mark this up and send it back to me, kay?) ;-)

4 comments:

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