Three quick writing/editing tips


I’ve been humbled twice within the span of about 12 hours.

I never thought my writing was perfect or untouchable. I appreciate all and any help from experienced editors because I know it will only help. So when my backfield editor (shout out to Boston Globe reporter Russ Contreras) helped me work the 1,500 words of my enterprise piece down to about 1,200, I was pleased.
Then my second, and new, backfield editor (shout out to Boston Globe reporter Johnny Diaz) reworked it down to a tight 900 words, and I couldn’t stop smiling.
Cheesy, I know, but my story was immeasurably better. It was tighter. It flowed better. It was more fun.

My story idea (about Latinos with Anglo-sounding names) is a lighthearted look at culture, society and assimilation. So when I used statistics, I needed to really justify the few I had. In my case, I was dealing with people’s experiences, and it was tough to quantify. Since I was writing about experiences in a trend story, I needed to weave the few numbers in, almost as if they were transitions between anecdotes. Ultimately, most of them were taken out. Overall, however, it’s a good rule.

I spoke to several experts at length about names and their relation to assimilation. But I had a specific focus and I needed to stay strictly to it, no matter how interesting other related ideas might have been. When I spoke to the experts, I needed to make sure that I kept them on focus. To clarify sometimes ambiguous terms, I needed to ask this question: “Can you explain that in layman’s terms, for the story and for the readers who might not know about this?”
Lastly, as my second backfield editor says, “Think of it as if you were talking to your close friend.” Make it fun and conversational, if you can. Listen to the flow. Read the story out loud.

And then maybe you’ll feel better about being a novice writer.

— James Wagner


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