An Editor’s Perspective: Insights from a Working Editor, Part 1

Mary Jo Doig, SCN Editorial Service, #6

[Story Circle Network established its Editorial Service to provide easy access to a team of professional editors. These editors are attuned to the stories women write — both fiction and memoir. Your manuscript deserves respect…the best treatment…and an editor who understands you. That’s why SCN Editorial Service (SCN/ES) exists. When you’re ready for an editor, we’re ready for you.

Mary Jo Doig is one of these professional editors. Today she’s sharing eight great tips on editing steps you need to take before submitting an article or entry to a contest. Four of these are described below. Then join Mary Jo on where she provides the second four practical tips. You may want to print all eight and keep them close by for ready reference.

–Matilda Butler, Women’s Memoirs]


When You Are Your Own Editor: Make Your Words Sparkle
Mary Jo Doig, SCN Editor

Congratulations! You’ve written your poem or story and now it’s nearly ready for submission. That’s a stand-alone achievement and I hope you’ll take some time to congratulate yourself and smile about your writing progress thus far.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll want to go back and do the first of several reviews, each with a singular perspective. I recommend a minimum of five re-reads. Most will work best if you do them aloud.

1. Sequence and Flow. Read your story aloud focusing on sequence and consider each of the following:

  • Does your first sentence easily draw your reader into the story?
  • Does your story have a clear beginning, middle, and ending?
  • Do your words flow easily when you read? If you find yourself hesitating at certain points because it does not read smoothly, these are the places that need further work to smooth out the story so that it reads like a piece of silk. This step may take several re-reads but it’s one of the most important final steps. Do keep re-reading aloud and making changes until you feel absolutely satisfied with the story’s flow.
  • Examine your last sentences. Often writers use these to summarize, proselytize, or otherwise draw a conclusion that the reader can well do for him/herself. If you’ve done any of the above, ask yourself if the sentence can be omitted. Often it can.
  • Lastly, consider if your final sentences can tie back into where your story began. This isn’t always possible, yet when it is, it adds strength and a satisfying sense of completeness to your story.

2. Spelling. Carefully check the spelling of each word. You can use a spell checker, but know the risk when there is more than one spelling of a word (eg, their, there, they’re). The checker determines only if you’ve spelled the word correctly, not if you’ve used the correct word. If you have any doubt about the spelling of a word with multiple meanings, you can do one of two things:

  • Check your dictionary for the meaning
  • Use a different word

3. Word Limit. Check the number of words carefully and be absolutely certain you adhere to your publisher’s limit. I recommend not sending in any over-the-word-limit work with a note saying you could not edit it down any further. Rather, if your story cannot be told within an allotted limit, simply do not submit it. There’s a reason for word limits and it’s usually closely related to publication space.

My first published story was over 800 words when I wrote it while my intended magazine’s word limit was 350. I felt initially it would be impossible to edit it down by more than half and still keep the integrity of the story. Yet I felt the story was a close match for the topic sought, so I dubiously gave it a try. Cutting those words and paragraphs was an arduous, painful process, and I eventually submitted what felt was the mere bony skeleton of my story. To my delight, though, the story was accepted with compliments. This experience showed me early on that many 800-1,000 word stories can be told in 350 words and still retain the shining nugget the story contains.

4. Punctuation.  This area is broad, it’s precise, and it’s also why you work with editors. Yet when you are the final editor of your work, you want to be as meticulous as possible about correct punctuation. It’s an important indication of your attention to your manuscript.

Check that all needed commas, quotation marks, periods, question marks, or other punctuation marks are where they belong. There are many guides to assist you, including online assistance.

Want Four More Tips? I hope you’ll join me over on WomensMemoirs where I’ve put together an additional four editing tips that will help your words sparkle.

Warmest writing and editing wishes,
Mary Jo Doig


Want to see Mary Jo at work? Here’s the way she describes the scene outside her window.

The view outside my office window never fails to center my soul. My lawn and flowers extend out to the road where, on the other side, acres of rolling meadows travel back to a lovely section of my beloved Shenandoah Valley Blue Ridge Mountains. I look to the mountains often…

In a transforming moment several years ago, I discovered that I deeply enjoy spending time with other women’s words. Without exception, I am drawn into each poem or story in a very personal way and deeply experience the images and feelings the story evokes. I seek to connect with the essence of each story or poem and then give each the same mindful, careful, and loving polish I apply to my favorite oak table.
My strengths include a deep commitment to a positive, respectful relationship with each writer with whom I work. Several years ago I sent out one of my stories and received back what I experienced as a blistering response from the editor. I felt her criticism was, in some ways, certainly constructive yet her critique style cancelled out any relationship I might have tried to establish with her. By contrast, I seek to support each writer’s strengths, encourage her growth, and nurture her talent.

Other strengths I offer are impeccable attention to detail, strict adherence to deadlines, and strong grammatical skills.

My experiences comprise, in large part, editing Story Circle Network’s True Words from Real Women pages in the quarterly Journal for the past five years. In addition I edited the annual True Words Anthology in 2007. With each manuscript I edit, I seek to bring, along with my skills, a passion to assist—with minimal intrusion—in presenting the author’s words with a pristine sparkle that shows the essence of her words.

2 responses to “An Editor’s Perspective: Insights from a Working Editor, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Editors on Editing: Insights from a Working Editor, Part 2 — Memoir Writing Blog

  2. Great points Mary Jo-here and on WomensMemoirs. Tip #1 especially a good reminder. Thanks.

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