Analyzing to Learn OR learning to love my inner editor

As an editor, I read with a red pencil in my head. That’s right – when I read something someone else wrote, no matter what it is, I am crossing out words, rearranging paragraphs, noting pace, sentence structure and comma placement.On the rare occasion that I read someone and don’t once pick up my mental pencil, it’s because the piece is extremely compelling.

Parker recommends that we each collect writing samples that we think are particularly well written. So one of my goals recently has been to begin collecting examples of good writing – pieces where I forgot about my inner editor.

One of the pieces that I found was from the blog Project Happily Ever After, entitled The Maddening Incident of the Last Egg in the Fridge. The writer/blogger is an extremely strong writer, and this particular tale recounts an argument that she had with her husband (or, rather, a non argument – one of those times when you’re really mad but don’t tell your partner). For me, several things stood out about this post.

First, it has a great lead. Within the first three lines the reader is hooked. As a single twenty-something who has never been married, I don’t exactly relate with the piece – but I don’t have to be able to draw an exact parallel to be able to see the lesson in the piece… which it delivers without ever getting preachy. In essence, the piece discusses the importance of a “cooling off period.”

Second, the writer has an incredibly strong voice. I can practically see her sitting across from me at a café with a cup of coffee cooling on the table while she gestures wildly throughout the tale to better make her point. What is particularly successful for her, in this post and others she’s written, is her attempt to portray both sides of the argument, but without trying to hide her obvious bias. When writing in just my own voice, and not the voice of a given company or publication, I have a lot of difficulty striking a good balance between “casual” and “interesting/structured.” After all, the piece still needs to have a point.

Which brings me to my third note. The piece is paced well with a nice arc. She begins in media res (aka she jumps straight into the story), drawing the reader in. Then she provides the necessary background information, without letting you lose interest. She builds the story – then, finally, resolves it. She uses short sentences and paragraphs where she wants the story to feel tense, and only allows them to get slightly longer as it comes to a resolution, keeping a constant sense of momentum.

Finally, she alternates nicely between “story” – what happened – and analyzing that story in a way that makes it useful to her readers, that lets it appeal to them.

Believe it or not, these are all things I note almost unconsciously as I read the piece for the first time. My inner editor is a great help with this particular Parker assignment – she sees exactly what skills the piece I’m reading excel at that I, personally, lack. So, from this piece I’m taking the following points, which I will try to apply to my own writing.

Points to remember:

–Shorter sentences keep the piece moving.
–Quotes and personal anecdotes can give a point more meaning
–A strong personal voice is often a good thing
–In Media Res – jump straight into the story to catch the reader’s attention
–Keep both pacing and arc in mind
–Alternate between “tale” and analysis

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