“A magician with words” was the plaudit I received from the chap whose article I had just professionally edited so that he could submit it to what is colloquially termed a “trade magazine” was very kind. It got me thinking. Magic is seldom achieved alone.
Now, to be sure, like most of us, I can happily handle a compliment like that! And, indeed, I certainly felt that I had done an excellent job on his article. I believed I had added value to it by using some of my experience in “wordsmithing”, my knowledge of the correct use of syntax and the introduction of a flowing style without hijacking his writing style.
Everyone has his or her own style, and an editor should be diligent in not destroying it.
Editing his article had also been an enjoyable exercise and learning experience. One can’t always say that about an article submitted to one for editing by executives and others whose main purpose in their working life is not writing.
This was an exception – not because it was brilliantly written per se. I should hasten to add also that it was not badly written either. Indeed, the author is in the middle of participating in one of the Quo Vadis writing courses which I facilitate, and it was pleasing to see how much he had learnt from the first part of the sessions with us.
Most importantly, his piece of writing appealed to me as an editor because, in the first place, it was not too long and not too short for the publication for which it is intended. I could see that from a quick glance at the manuscript – always gratifying for an editor to know at the outset that he or she is not going to have to cut word after word in an attempt to get the article to its required length.
Secondly, a speed-read through the piece – something I do as a matter of course, but not every editor I know will do so (each one has their own methodology) – illustrated that the writer had done some research. I knew he was highly conversant with his subject and was academically qualified to write it, but he had thrown in pieces of research which added richly to the story.
Thirdly, and most importantly, his introduction to his article, and the manner in which he constructed the main body that followed, grabbed my attention – and held it throughout. His use of words, syntax and general ability to write grammatically correct English were not always brilliant. In fact, at times, it jarred.
But the logical flow of the article, and his appeal to basic human interest, won the day. He had a story to tell. Editing came easily and I believe we have an article that will stand out in the publication for which he has written it.
The lesson in all of this is clear. When writing an article, ensure always that you have organised your facts, real or fictional. Work hard at an excellent introduction that will grab the attention, and then build on that foundation by introducing human interest. That’s the beginning of the magic.
Some people say this is impossible when dealing with a “dry” subject. I have always argued that this need not necessarily be the case – provided one sticks to the advice given here. Implementing that advice will almost certainly always lead to a finely tuned piece of writing attractive to both the specialist and non-specialist, even of a “dry” or “foreign” subject.
Oh, and the subject of my writer’s interesting article that held my attention so well? Accountancy – something I generally find extraordinarily mundane…