The Worth of a Title

Lately, I’ve been mulling what I should title one of the books on which I’ve been working. Now that the manuscript is finished and ready to be marketed to potential publishers, my search for an appropriate title has become intense.

The title an author assigns to an article or a book can make it or break it. That’s true first with the acquisitions editor or committee, the person or persons at the publishing house with the power to accept or reject a submission on which the author has labored for incalculable hours, weeks, months, or even years. But it’s no less true with the readers in the marketplace if the manuscript is accepted and published. So it behooves us writers to consider carefully what we name our creations. The value of one’s creation is, rightly or wrongly, the worth of its title. Its perceived worth is wrapped up in those few words that announce the article or grace the cover.

If the editor agrees to publish the article or book, he or she might choose to retain the author’s original title. But sometimes the original title gets changed along its circuitous and lengthy path to final publication. That can be either good or bad.

Take, as examples, the following changes that some wise editors made to manuscript titles that are now famous books:

  • First Impressions became Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austin).
  • Something That Happened was changed to Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck).
  • The Last Man in Europe was retitled 1984 (George Orwell).
  • Fiesta morphed into The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway).
  • Atticus was renamed To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee).
  • Mistress Mary became The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett).
  • Tomorrow Is Another Day was retitled Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell).

Many writers have not been so fortunate as to have such wise editors, and their titles were changed to something no one remembers because their creations, through no fault of their own, failed the market test.

In my own years of writing for publication, I’ve had good titles and bad titles retained, original titles changed to better titles, and original titles changed to much worse titles. Following are a few examples of titles that were changed. I’ll let you, the readers, decide if the changes were good, bad, or just plain ugly. (I have my own strictly unbiased opinions!)

I’ll start with my first book, published by a traditional publisher, so I had little say in what the final title would be. Originally, I titled it with a main title and a secondary title, which is a common practice for nonfiction books: Governing the Confederacy: Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries. The gods in the publishing house, however, ditched the main title and retained only the subtitle as the sole title.

Then the articles. I’ve given the original titles first, followed by the editors’ revised titles in parentheses. Again, you be the judge.

  • “The Slanted Window” (“Through the Slanted Window”)
  • “A Peach of a Product from the Palmetto State” (“Do I Dare to Eat a Peach?”)
  • “Waiting on Grandparents on Christmas Eve” (“Christmas Eve Reunion”)
  • “Write Your Own Life Story” (“The Beloved Country”)
  • “The Lost Art of Porch Sitting” (“Think, Pray, Listen”)
  • “The Enduring Legacy of Noah Webster” (“A Man of Many Words”)
  • “All Aboard the Dollywood Express” (“Hooray for Dollywood”)

Some of my published articles were reprinted several times after their original publication. In many instances, their original titles were changed every time they were republished. (Titles, by the way, are not copyrighted.)

  • “The Day I Met Royalty” (reprinted as “The Prince’s Visit”)
  • “The Lost Art of Worship” (reprinted as “The Importance of Worship” and “Is Worship a Lost Art?”)
  • “The Ready Writer” (reprinted as “Producing the Ready Writer”)

So my search for the perfect title for the just-completed manuscript continues. It’s as important a task as the search for the right publisher. At this moment, I have amassed sixteen possible titles during my brainstorming sessions, with multiple variations for several of those options. I’d much rather be researching or writing, but I’m engaged in a critical, if less inspiring, part of the writing profession. Where, oh where, is the Muse when you need her?

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Miracles Do Happen (If That’s What This Was)

Something happened to me yesterday that some people might be tempted to call a miracle.

No, I’m not about to say that I walked on the rough waters churned up by Hurricane Dorian, which has dominated our local news lately. It’s been covered by media longer than I can recall coverage of any other hurricane since we’ve lived in the Palmetto State. In fact, the closest I came to Dorian was seeing a few gray clouds overhead as the storm skirted the coast.

And no, I didn’t see any of the waters turned to wine or witnessed any blind men suddenly being able to see or cripples from birth suddenly leaping and walking about.

Nothing of biblical proportions, although I would never discount God’s ability to make any or all of those kinds of things happen. After all, I’ve known people with cancer whom doctors suddenly found were cancerless. And people whose days supposedly were numbered who ended up living for decades longer.

No, what I’m referring to is not actually a miracle in the strict sense of that term. But I refer to what is, or at least has been in my recent memory, extremely rare. I’m referring to a lab tech’s ability to locate a viable vein, insert a needle into it, and draw sufficient blood for a blood test without having to poke my arm multiple times and then wiggle the needle around in my arm in efforts to keep the precious fluid flowing.

Every time I’ve gone for blood work in the past, I’ve warned the techs that everyone has a hard time finding the vein and keeping the blood flowing. I even suggest that they take it from the back of my hand, where the vein is obvious, no exploration necessary. (That’s what one tech, who was unusually capable of learning from her mistakes, did after having tried both of my arms unsuccessfully.) But do you think the other techs would listen? Of course not! What could I possibly know about my own arteries? After all, I’m not a trained medical professional. As a result, I’ve been bruised by some of the best and some of the worst of them, and that has made me leery of all of them.

To be totally honest about this, I did have one older nurse who could do it right first time, every time. Unfortunately, she was usually called in only when two or three other younger techs had tried unsuccessfully and I was looking like a pin cushion (and the next day would look like one of those dark brown lawn puff balls we sometimes mow over here in the South, spreading a cloud of millions of choking spores all over the neighborhood).

But today was different, and I had absolutely no warning, no opportunity to prepare myself for what I was about to face.

When I walked into the lab area, however, I immediately noticed a difference. In charge was the first male tech I’d ever had poke me. He certainly wouldn’t win, or even get a nomination for, any Mr. Personality Awards. He merely grunted when I spoke to him. Not everyone laughs at my corny attempts to be funny, but this guy didn’t even roll his eyes. I began to think that maybe he could bruise me badly and never blink an eye. A sadist, surely.

I went into my by-now well-memorized warning about every tech’s having trouble finding the vein. It didn’t faze him. He just quietly applied the tourniquet and began seeking that elusive vein. He found something that I couldn’t even see clearly. It could have been a single hair for all I knew. But with his X-ray vision, he saw something. As he prepared the four supersize glass collection vials and the needle, I looked in the other direction and mentally braced myself for the inevitable “just a little prick” that becomes a major pain as the typical tech twists the needle back and forth in search of the invisible and for the just-as-inevitable golf ball- to softball-sized bruise.

Not feeling any of that, I looked back at my arm to see why he was having problems before he had even poked me. Imagine my surprise when I saw the needle firmly inserted into the vein, blood flowing rapidly, and the first vial nearly full. The tech deftly removed it, replacing it with the next. Again and yet again. And before I knew it, he was saying the most he had said since I walked in: “You’re free to go.”

As I left, I looked him in the eyes and said, “Thank you for getting it right!”

Mr. Personality just broke into a broad smile. No words can express the importance of doing your job right. And no words can express the appreciation of us pin cushions.

Miracles do happen!

 

Learning More from Louis L’Amour

I finished reading Louis L’Amour’s memoir Education of a Wandering Man last week in the spare moments when I wasn’t writing or doing research for my writing. So many of you seemed to enjoy the quotations I shared from it in my previous post https://dlpedit.wordpress.com/2019/08/23/life-lessons-from-louis-lamour/ that I decided to share a few more this week. Perhaps these gems will increase your appreciation of reading, learning, and then sharing what you’ve learned through your own writings.

On Books and Reading

“[A] book is less important for what it says than for what it makes you think.”

“I was never without a book, carrying one with me wherever I went and reading at every opportunity.”

“A parent or a teacher has only his lifetime; a good book can teach forever.”

On Learning

“It is not enough to have learned, for living is sharing and I must offer what I have for whatever it is worth.”

“The beauty of educating oneself . . . is that there are no limits to what can be learned. All that is learned demands contemplation, and so one is never at a loss for something to do.”

“Knowledge is like money: To be of value it must circulate, and in circulating it can increase in quantity and, hopefully, in value.”

On Writing

To deal with writer’s block, “Start writing no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

In dealing with rejection, “My secret was that no sooner did I put something in the mail than I wrote something else and sent it off. Each rejection was cushioned by my expectations for the other manuscripts.”

“[W]riting is always and forever a learning process. One is never good enough and one never knows enough. . . . No matter how good a writer becomes, he can always be better.”

“The rough times were made smoother by the realization that it was all grist for the mill, and that someday I would be writing, with knowledge, of what I was experiencing then.”

“As I wrote the stories I could sell, I was like a squirrel, gathering the nuts of future stories and storing them for the years when my writing would be better and my market larger.”

“As I was writing one story, I was always preparing for others. . . .”

On His Service in World War II (revealing his humor)

“[M]y time overseas was spent in the European Theater of Operations. I did what I was given to do and they gave me four Bronze Stars for doing it reasonably well. . . . There was no time for writing during the war, but one could always think, and one could observe and remember.”

My intention now is to read one (or maybe more?) of L’Amour’s novels. But I face the perennial obstacle to reaching that goal: while I was reading the L’Amour memoir, I obtained five other books that I’m now dying to read!

So many books, so little time!

What are you reading right now? More importantly, what are you learning from it?

Life Lessons from Louis L’Amour

As readers of this blog already know, I tend to prefer reading nonfiction over fiction. But they also know that I’m trying to break out of that rut and read a little fiction now and then.

Within the fiction genre, I’m not really what one would call a fan of Westerns, but I’m working on that, too. At least I’m trying. I’ve read a Zane Grey novel. I’ve even read a Max Brand book. But I’ve yet to read one by Louis L’Amour. So, to stretch myself, while browsing the shelves of a local used bookstore, I picked up a copy of a memoir he wrote: Education of a Wandering Man (1989). In it, he has a lot of helpful lessons on education and learning, reading and writing. Now that I’ve seen inside the man, so to speak, I’m really tempted to find one of his Westerns and taste it. And, mind you, I’m only half-way through the book. I’m sure there will be  much more for me to learn in the second half! I’d like to share a few of those gems in this week’s blog.

On Education:

“[N]o university exists that can provide an education; what a university can provide is an outline, to give the learner a direction and guidance. The rest one has to do for oneself.”

“Education depends on the quality of the teacher, not the site or beauty of the buildings. . . .”

“[S]chool was interfering with my education. . . .” (He dropped out in tenth grade.)

There is no reason why anyone cannot get an education if he or she wants it badly enough and is persistent.”

“We do not at present educate people to think but, rather, to have opinions, and that is something altogether different.”

“I think the greatest gift anyone can give to another is the desire to know, to understand. Life is not for simply watching spectator sports, or for taking part in them; it is not for simply living from one working day to the next. Life is for delving, discovering, learning.”

“Only one who has learned much can fully appreciate his ignorance. He knows so well the limits of his knowledge and how much lies waiting to be learned.”

On Reading:

“I have read because I loved reading, and I have learned because I loved learning, yet all one needs cannot come from books. It can come from sounds, from music, from the play of light and shadow, from the people one meets or those one does not meet.”

“One book always led to another and occasionally my discoveries led to a whole succession of books. . . .”

On the Historian’s Challenge:

“A mistake constantly made by those who should know better is to judge people of the past by our standards rather than their own. The only way men or women can be judged is against the canvas of their own time.”

On the Sources of His Ideas:

“I was used to listening to older people talk, and enjoyed their stories. Moreover, I had an insatiable curiosity about places and people.”

“[N]o matter where you go, . . . there are stories. . . . [O]ne has only to listen, to look, and to live with awareness. . . .[A]ll men look, but so few can see.”

“For a writer, . . . everything is grist for the mill, and a writer cannot know too much. Sooner or later everything he does know will find its uses. A writer’s brain is like a magician’s hat. If you’re going to get anything out of it, you have to put something in first.”

“If a person does not have ideas, he had better not even think of becoming a writer. But ideas are everywhere.”

“The raw material is not important. It is what the writer does with the material.”

On Writing/Publishing:

“Too many books are written about writing by those who are not writers.”

“One is not by decision, just a writer. One becomes a writer by writing . . . and doing it constantly.”

“[R]emember that we are writing about people. Ideas are important only as they affect people. . . . Writing is a learning process. One never knows enough, and one is never good enough.”

“If one is any good as a writer at all, he must be constantly improving, learning, finding better ways of saying what needs to be said.”

I dare say that when I read one of his novels, I’ll find threads of these views scattered throughout! Can’t wait!

New School Year Revives Memories

It’s school time again. You can’t avoid knowing that fact because of all the Walmart aisles crowded with school supplies for sale. (I don’t think we had to have a fraction of that stuff back in the days when I was a student!) But this time of year always brings back a lot of memories for me.

This week’s activities provided the initial spark for my memory machine. My wife began in-service training this week at the school where she teaches. As always, however, she actually had been working in her classroom all last week. She is ready for the end of school every May, but throughout the summer “vacation” she’s still thinking about school, and by the first of August, she’s champing at the bit to get back into her classroom.

I participated in a different school’s in-service training. Unlike my wife, however, I was on the other side of the podium, presenting three sessions of instruction designed to inspire and motivate. Although I’m not in the classroom now, my heart is still there, and sometimes I get a little nostalgic for the classroom. A little.

As much as I enjoyed sharing with the faculty members in the in-service sessions I conducted, I was somewhat intimidated by my audience, whose experience levels ranged from first-year teachers to 20- to 40-year veterans. I felt as though those veterans could have taught me more than I taught them.

But at the beginning of this blog post, I said something about memories. I’ve already written about some of my elementary school teachers in earlier blog posts and in my book Look Unto the Hills (https://www.amazon.com/Look-Unto-Hills-Stories-Tennessee/dp/1975798899). This time, I’d like to mention some of my teachers from the middle and upper grades.

Gladys Rogers, seventh-grade English. She was without doubt the sourest teacher I had. I never recall seeing her smile. Her gray hair was pulled up in a bun so tightly on top of her head that I think it pulled all smile from her face. She was a stern disciplinarian, and I feared her. But could she ever teach grammar! She gave me a solid foundation that helped me the rest of the way through high school and college. Her teaching gave me the tools I needed to learn how to write, so I guess I should credit her for what success I’ve enjoyed in my published articles and books.

Richard Booher, seventh-grade world geography. He had a hot temper that erupted whenever any student deliberately disobeyed or consistently disrupted class or failed to pay attention. Since I was a shy wall flower, I never faced his wrath, but he made geography enjoyable for me and gave me a solid foundation in a subject that is essential to an understanding of history.

Building on that geographic foundation, Paul Williams taught me U.S. Geography in ninth grade. I recall only one specific requirement from that course–memorizing the states and their capitals–but Mr. Williams had real class, and I respected that. He was tall, thin, and athletic (he was also a coach). He was always dressed and groomed immaculately. In contrast to other teachers, I never recall hearing him raise his voice in class, but neither did I ever sense that he was not in complete control of his classroom. When I was an education major in college and had to do observations over a Christmas break, I again sat in Mr. Williams’s class.

Hubert Lakin, tenth-grade World History. He was the brother of my elementary school principal and a veteran of many years in the classroom. He exuded a quiet confidence and integrity. He also demonstrated great courage of conviction. In the years following the SCOTUS ruling in Murray v. Curlett, which involved atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair and resulted in the removal of prayer and Bible reading from public schools, Mr. Lakin continued to include the Bible’s historical record in his teaching. For example, he had several of us read selected Scripture passages aloud in class (e.g., the Creation account, the Flood account, and the account of the Tower of Babel). He was not intimidated by an inane court ruling.

I also recall an interesting quirk of Mr. Lakin. He often sat in a chair behind his desk to lecture, and he tended to look out the window, lost in the historical record he was reciting, as he did so. Suddenly, he would leap up from his chair and begin pacing up and down the aisles between the student desks, never missing a beat in his lecture. It certainly kept us awake and alert, not that I ever had any trouble staying awake in a history class.

There were also other teachers, of course. For example, Miss Bare, the typing teacher, who rapped my hands with her ever-present wooden ruler if I allowed my wrists to rest on the typing table rather than keeping them straight and rigid. She also whacked my thighs with it if I sat with my feet under my chair rather than flat on the floor. (I still flinch whenever I’m typing and suddenly realize that I’ve unconsciously allowed my feet to slip under my chair!)

And there were the two track coaches I had during my two-year stint on the track team. They guided me to an eventual letter, along with my teammates on the two-mile-relay team: Johnny Hamel (kneeling), David Hansard (left), and Dale Wayland (not pictured in the accompanying photo). That’s me on the right.

Yes, the beginning of a new school year brings back such memories. I’m grateful for what each teacher contributed to my life. Sometimes it was “little” things; some of them played more significant roles. But they all contributed. Even those who weren’t very good exemplars unwittingly contributed to my own future in education by teaching me how not to teach.

Which teachers do you most remember from your educational past? What other memories does a new school year bring to your mind?

Book Progress Update

The wheels of the publishing machine often turn slowly, especially when an author is awaiting an editor’s response to a submission or the release of his or her book.

I recall, as though it were only yesterday, a time when one submitted everything (queries, articles, book manuscripts, etc.) by snail mail and then waited for what seemed interminable lengths for a response to arrive via the same method. That wait was nerve-wracking at best and did absolutely nothing to decrease my impatience. As the saying goes, “A watched pot never boils.”

With the advent of the computer, the internet, and near-instant communication via e-mail and text messaging, one would think that writers everywhere would now be calm and wracked-nerveless. Not so. The waiting is still as bad as ever, perhaps even worse, having the knowledge of how fast things could by moving if only. . . .

But the wheels of the publishing machine do turn, even if their movements are almost imperceptible to the naked eye or the waiting author. I have proof of that fact.

Two days ago, I learned that my editor has released the manuscript of my book Combat! Spiritual Lessons from Military History to enter the next stage of the publishing process. In her cover letter to the publisher, she declared the manuscript to be “in immaculate condition,” this added to her earlier assessment of it as “pristine.” If I understand the process correctly, the book will soon be assigned a release date. When that happens, I’ll share it.

Meanwhile, the TouchPoint Art Department apparently is working on the cover design, which I should receive for approval soon, and the layout of galley proofs will begin. Once I receive the proofs, I’ll have 7-10 days in which to go over them with the proverbial fine-toothed comb to identify any last-minute errors. (If it is, indeed, “pristine” and “immaculate,” as the editor avers, my job should be easy, right? If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 38 years of writing for publication, ain’t nothing easy about that! It’s a tedious but critical task. And if I fail to catch any mistake, multiple readers are sure to do so, and they’ll let me know!)

My hope and prayer is that, once the book is released, readers will be as generous with their purchases of and praises for the book as my editor has been! Until then, I wait. And wait. And wait. I’ve learned not to hold my breath. After all, the publishing world creeps along at its own mysterious pace, and while I wait I must also work. I have other irons in the fire! Such busyness helps the waiting go better.

Stay tuned.

Travane: A Review

I foresaw trouble as soon as I flipped through the pages of this newly arrived book I had received to review. It was Travane by M.D. Schlatter (Dot’s House, 2011).

Beyond the fact that it was a work of fiction, which I seldom read (but have been trying to open myself to more often), it had a glossary–in the front of the book. Any work of fiction that requires a glossary means trouble for me.

But the words in this glossary read like a foreign language dictionary. It contained exotic-sounding names of characters and places. Names like Oneve and Vogah and BerRa and Menove. It defined odd titles such as CherRene and Hersere and Resorvan and RioArd and Vescavo.

To further confirm that I had entered upon a quest into new genre territory, as I read I encountered characters who periodically exhibited auras of various hues and colors, each of which conveyed different meanings. I was disconcerted to find myself in the middle of Fantasyland.

As strange as all of this was to my reading palate, I pressed on. And I discovered a compelling story filled with plot twists and turns that kept me reading to discover what would happen to CherRene Rayna. The plot included enough thinly veiled biblical allusions to show that the story of conflict between good and evil that it had a lesson to be learned. The fantasy portions repeatedly forced me to suspend my disbelief and my ever-present demand for “just the facts, Ma’am” often enough that I could never forget that I was reading a work of fiction. (This is still hard for me, a die-hard nonfiction reader.)

This book is a stark contrast to M.D/ Schlatter’s previous work, Autumn Frost, which is set in modern times and without the changing colors of various auras that fills the current work. I could never quite figure out the time frame for when Travane was taking place other than that it was a time when horses still provided the main means of transportation.

If you are “into” fantasy fiction, this book might work for you. If you, like I, prefer more conventional fiction, you might want to stick with Schlatter’s earlier work. Or perhaps wait for her upcoming title, Winter Tumult, which, like the first in that series, is also set in more conventional modern times.

The Struggles of “Catching Up”

Perhaps you recall the famous lines about “the best laid plans of mice and men.” Often, the flow of “normal” life events tends to discombobulate those plans, and “catching up” afterward often takes longer than we anticipate or hope.

Such has been the case with much of my summer this year. Summer is always busy with the added chores of increased yard work, especially if it’s a bit rainier than normal, but this year seemed abnormally busy. It began with our two-week trek to the Great American West, continued with long-term visits from various children and grandchildren, and wound down with another two-week trip to Southwest Florida, during all of which the e-mails piled up, alleviated only by several quick, minimal forays to respond to only the most urgent messages. Eventually, however, I had to deal with all of them.

My favorite key on my keyboard became the DELETE key! I found myself spending about two milliseconds deciding whether to keep or not to keep scads of e-mails. I found myself asking why I had ever subscribed to so many e-newsletters and blogs. Do I really need them? I reached the point of deleting without reading myriad essays on writing/editing and Southern history and from even one of my favorite bloggers, Sean of the South. Other e-mails I was able to hide in numerous e-mail files. (“Out of sight, out of mind!”) At least they no longer appear in my list of e-mails. Yesterday, I finally succeeded in clearing my in box.

What other responsibilities so demanded my attention that I had to resort to such drastic measures? The first was the arrival of the edited draft of my book manuscript. Since my editor was on a deadline, I had to put my review on a deadline. That review took top priority. I had to get it back to her so she could do the final read-through and keep the publication process on schedule.

Then there was the arrival of a book for which I had agreed to read and write a review. In all of the activities, I had forgotten that it was coming, but it was among the accumulated held mail when I returned from a trip and was already late. (I’m still trying to get that read between other tasks. One of these days I’ll actually get the review written.)

Then there were the in-service training sessions that were looming and fast approaching. (What?! Time for school again already?!) I had to create PowerPoint presentations for each of those sessions, and I’m not the greatest when it comes to PowerPoint, at least not in making the slides perform all the bells-and-whistles tricks people have come to expect. And I had to identify and obtain the prizes for the drawings I conduct during each session.

Then there was my publisher’s request to see the manuscript for my next book. It had been so long since I wrote the manuscript that I couldn’t remember if I had actually finished writing it all, so I had to go back and do a quick reading of it. Then I had to get it to the Acquisitions Department in a timely manner.

There’s more to writing than first meets the eye. And emergencies. And unplanned visitors. Or even planned ones! There is grass to mow and trim. Cars to maintain. Bills to pay. Things to do. Places to go. People to see. There’s life. And the noise, noise, noise, noise, noise!

This is not unique to me. Every writer faces these problems and interruptions and distractions. Maybe more than I face. And yet, the professionals, the true writers who must write regardless, always seem to get it done. It’s what they do. It’s who they are.

If you sometimes find yourself in the same boat, wondering how you’ll ever catch up and return to a “normal” state in which you can write, don’t despair. It just takes time. And setting realistic priorities. And “biting the bullet” to delete all those e-mails you’re so tempted to open and read.

Now that I’m caught up on the e-mail, I can settle down and do some serious writing.

What’s that my wife is saying? We have visitors coming for a long weekend?

Here we go again! It’s the “new normal.” Besides, it’s a couple of cute granddaughters who are visiting, so how bad can it be? I think I’ll take a break from my writing. I can always catch up later.

Shared Perspectives

The lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s song include the repeated phrase “I’ve looked at life from both sides now.” In his poem “The Road Less Traveled,” Robert Frost wrote, “And that has made all the difference.”

Because I’m both a writer and an editor, I have looked at the publishing world from both perspectives. I have done so for many years now in both of those respective roles. But I must often remind myself to continue doing so. When I write, I must do so with the editor in mind. When I edit someone else’s work, I must consider the writer and his or her thinking.

As an editor, I’ve seen manuscripts written by some really smart people who “knew their stuff” but couldn’t write their way out of a wet paper bag. They were well educated, so I know that they had been taught the proper rules of spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, composition, etc., yet they obviously hadn’t learned those lessons. They could score well on a classroom test, but they did not know how to apply those lessons in real-life writing.

On the other hand, I’ve read material written by people who had excellent writing skills and a good command of language but no imagination. Worse, some of them had nothing worth saying, no message. Or the message they did have had no organization to help readers make sense of what they were trying to say.

But, thankfully, I’ve also worked with manuscripts by writers who had not only a worthwhile and well-organized message but also a “way with words,” and they knew how to apply the rules of language. That latter group is the one I most enjoyed including as clients. Moreover, they are the ones like whom I aspired to be as a writer myself.

As a writer, I have always tried to be considerate of my editors. I try to avoid making the mistakes I saw in other writers’ works. I try to make my manuscripts as “clean” as I can so that the editor’s job is easy. Hopefully, even enjoyable. Certainly not a pain to read or edit.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that my work is by no means perfect. Not even close! It always needs and benefits from a good edit. Whenever I read some of the things I’ve written, I often cringe to think that I wrote that! Even editors, when they switch hats to become writers, need editors. I’m no exception to that rule.

I’ve had some good editors, each with his or her own unique strengths, and I’ve learned a lot from each of them. I’d be a fool to say that any one of them was the best because each was best at his or her unique focus. For some, it was organization. For others, it was various parts of speech. For still others, it was ridding text of verbosity. But each taught me something valuable that I can now apply to my own writing.

The first editor for whom I ever wrote was the late Paul Poirot of The Freeman, the journal of the Foundation for Economic Education. I had a good reason for liking him. He accepted the first article I ever submitted for publication, “Help Wanted: Laborers.” He also accepted every subsequent article I submitted for his consideration while he was editor for that journal. And he made minimal changes to those manuscripts, but every one of his changes improved my work. For example, on that first article, he wrote in his letter accepting the submission that he had reworded the opening paragraph to “speed” the lead.

When I was a beginning editor at Martin Marietta (subsequently, Lockheed Martin) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the director of the Publications Division assigned me a mentor, the late Mary Guy, a senior editor who had been there since the Manhattan Project (or so it seemed). Among the lessons that Mary taught me was how to deal with deadlines. At first, I took the internal clients’ stated deadlines as gospel and almost stressed myself out rushing through their work to meet those deadlines.

But Mary taught me that the clients’ stated deadlines were not really their deadlines. She showed me that they were padding the deadline so they would have plenty of time to review the editor’s work before they really had to have the work completed. She taught me to negotiate with them, determining their “drop-dead deadline,” when they really needed it back. Then she taught me to deliver the finished edit before the promised date.

But Mary also helped me learn to slow down (a lesson that I still have to review every so often). “Haste makes waste.” Haste leads to mistakes. It leads to inaccuracies. It leads to bad organization of one’s points. In short, it makes for bad writing. Granted, sometimes one must hurry the writing. There are those deadlines, after all. But, more often than not, we have the time but don’t use it wisely. Rather, we rush our writing, and that doesn’t produce the best writing. Mary taught me to slow down enough to suggest better, more precise words; to catch errors that can easily escape notice; and to pace myself to produce the best edit of the client’s material.

Applying Mary Guy’s lessons allowed me to develop a reputation among my author clients of delivering a quality product ahead of schedule (something nearly unheard of among government contract workers!) while ensuring clean, logical, well-worded text.

Lest you begin to think that all of my editors were “late,” I must include a few who are still among the living. When I was a history textbook author, I had two excellent editors, Manda Kalagayan and Grace Geide. Manda not only was a qualified, experienced editor but also had a master’s degree in history, so she could ensure the historical accuracy of what I wrote as well as its grammatical correctness. And she wasn’t reluctant to tell me whenever I was wrong. (We also had some stimulating discussions on historical topics.)

Grace began working with us history authors as a graduate assistant and was somewhat intimidated by us. Therefore, she was reluctant to correct our writing or challenge us on anything, especially the historical content. She quickly outgrew that reticence, however, when she realized that we were just “people” with a real need for editorial help, and she developed into a detail-oriented editor. She and Manda did a lot to make our writing efforts much better.

I’ve also worked with dozens of magazine editors. I’ve had no major problems with any of them, although I’ve had better working relationships with some than with others. For some, I wrote only a single article. With others (e.g., The Freeman, Journal for Christian Educators, Homeschooling Today,  and Good Old Days), I developed a connection that led to multiple sales and long-standing relationships. Perhaps they simply liked my writing style, or maybe we shared an interest in particular subject matter.

But I soon learned that all that can change whenever an editor is promoted to another position, moves to a different publication, or retires and is replaced by a new editor. Following Paul Poirot’s retirement, for example, I couldn’t seem to get anything I wrote accepted by his successors at The Freeman. That situation later reversed itself when, after multiple editorial changes, the publisher hired yet another editor who again “liked my stuff.”

Some of the editors with whom I’ve worked simply accepted my manuscript, did a basic edit, and published it with no further comments or suggestions. Others checked with me about major changes or revisions (or had me do the revising) before publishing it. Still others, such as Dr. Charles Walker, former editor of Journal for Christian Educators, annually asked me to suggest topics for future issues and then selected several of those topics and gave me carte blanche to write articles on them, publishing them with minimal editing. He also wrote the foreword of my book Teacher: Teaching and Being Taught.

That brings me to my most recent editor, Kimberly Coghlan, who is editing my soon-to-be-published book from TouchPoint Publishing. She is a prime example (and the most recent one for me) of how an editor can go above and beyond making mere editorial changes or suggestions that improve one’s writing to raise the morale and encourage the efforts of a writer. Kimberly made my day last week when she returned her completed edit of my book manuscript.

Her e-meal read, in part, “In my 10 years of editing, I have never come across a manuscript that was so pristine. You have really worked hard on making this the best version. I am truly impressed. Your writing is phenomenal, and I literally only had to make a handful of simple edits.”

Knowing my own writing, I suspect that perhaps she was exaggerating a bit. Maybe even more than a bit. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that was “pristine,” although I do work hard to make the editing task easier for any editor of my writing. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but it does mean I work hard at it. But her comments do more than stroke my ego or make me feel good about myself and my writing. They make me want to bend over backward to please her, to make my writing better so her work is even easier, and even to give her the benefit of the doubt whenever her editorial changes might differ from my own editorial preferences.  When she finishes with my project, I want her to look back on the task with pleasure, with a desire to work together on future projects, rather than to rue the day she agreed to work on my first manuscript she’s seen. And that makes for a more honest, cooperative, and successful working relationship. It helps create a team effort and eliminates what all too often becomes an us-versus-them adversarial relationship.

So, to conclude this paean to the editors I have known, we writers should be grateful for the good editors we’ve been privileged to work with and do everything we can to make our writings as good as we can humanly make them so that the editors can enjoy working with our words. And we should also find ways of expressing our appreciation of them. Moreover, we should take the time to look at the publishing world from both perspectives, that of the editor and that of the writer. If we are writing, we should do so with our editor in mind. If we’re editing someone else’s work, we should do so with the writer in mind.

To paraphrase Frost, doing so will make all the difference.

Taking Time While There Is Time

For fifteen years, we had sped past the place just off I-95 in Pooler, Georgia. Every time we had driven to visit my in-laws in Florida and every time we returned home, we passed it. And every time we did so, we commented, “We’ll have to stop there some time–when we have more time.”

But we were always in a hurry. Only a limited amount of time. Had to get to Nannie and Poppop’s house. On the way back, had to get back to work. Had to mow the lawn. Had to get back before dark. There was always some legitimate excuse.

Until this time.

This time, our destination was two and a half hours shorter. We had no timetable to keep. We had no reason not to stop. So we did.

The best advertisements for the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum are the restored aircraft on display between the museum and the interstate and the praises of World War II veterans in whose honor the museum was built. Our experience confirmed those praises, and we add our own kudos to theirs.

We arrived just before the doors opened and just happened to enter as a museum administrator arrived. He introduced us to the museum and told us where to get tickets, where to start, and how to get the most from our visit. When we told him that Connie’s uncle had been a member of the flight crew on a B-17 in the 384th Bomb Group, he was helpful in directing us to Uncle Paul’s unit’s plaque and banner.

We spent the next 2 1/2 hours looking at excellently prepared exhibits, reading information placards, and examining the many artifacts and fully or partially restored warplanes. Those included a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-24 Liberator, a P-51 Mustang, a Messerschmitt Bf-109, and a Steerman biplane.

But the most impressive part of our tour was the docent who got us started with a series of three films (complete with special effects) that gave an abridged version of what it was like for a B-17 crew, from pre-mission briefers to ground crew to flight crew during a bombing run over Nazi Germany. Then he gave us an informative walking tour of the central exhibits, which encircled the centerpiece, the gleaming B-17 City of Savannah.

This docent not only “knew his stuff” but also loved sharing his passion with others. Upon learning that Uncle Paul had been a tail gunner, he even allowed us to view inside the plane’s tail-gunner’s compartment. He gave us a greater appreciation for what the gunners experienced. He seemed reluctant to stop talking about his subject and answering our questions, but the start of his next scheduled film showing was imminent. We couldn’t have had a better docent, and I made a mental note to be more passionate in my own docenting duties.

But there was yet more ahead in our slower-paced journey down I-95. We had planned to defy Disney traffic and spend the night in Lakeland, Florida. The next morning we planned to surprise two people at a local church there. One, the pastor, I had grown up with in Knoxville. He had often urged us to stop by on one of    our trips farther south, but we never seemed to have time. Now we did. We also wanted to surprise a young lady in his congregation whom we had gotten to know at the University in Greenville.

But as the saying states, the best-laid plans of mice and men go awry. Both of the people we wanted to see were in Kenya on a missions trip. We did, however, get to see, many for the first time, family members of both individuals as well as parents of kids we had once hosted in our home in Tennessee.

After the service, we completed our journey and enjoyed the company of my father- and sister-in-law in the heat and humidity of summer in the Sunshine State.

The moral of it all, I suppose, is that we should slow down occasionally and make time to visit the places and people we so often say we want to see “one day when we have more time.”

What is your “want-to-visit-someday” spot (Or even that “want-to-write-about” subject?) Why not begin planning to make that “want-to” wish a reality? And then just do it!