Stepping gracefully

by Eric Damer

Review of seminar Eight-Step Editing with Jim Taylor (offered by EAC-BC on January 18, 2014)

I was resolved to take an EAC workshop this year and registered for the first likely candidate, Eight-Step Editing. Wow – did this workshop impress me! Not only did I find the content engaging and helpful, but Jim Taylor presented his program with sage advice, solid research support, amusing anecdotes and useful examples from his long experience as an editor.

Much of the workshop’s technical content was familiar, at least on the surface. Most editors, novice and expert, have learned to vary sentence length, cut excess words, clarify meaning, avoid passive construction and organize ideas. But I quickly realized the value of revisiting the basics, since they have tremendous power to clarify writing and aid readability. Besides, one can easily wander into grey areas where basic rules no longer appear so simple. The in-class exercises demonstrated that editors often apply the same principles but produce slightly different outcomes. Although the variations seemed equally correct, sharp editors should recognize the possibilities and choose their path for good reasons.

Despite the surface familiarity of the topics, I learned a few new things. For example, I did not realize how strongly some people insist that “be” words have no place in clear writing. (Search for “E-Prime” on the internet – you’ll be amazed!) To practice writing without “be” words, I deliberately, but with difficulty, omitted them entirely in this review! (What do you think?) As a consequence, I also eliminated passive voice (of course) although no one in the workshop advocated a total ban on “be” words or passive voice. However, Jim did emphasize in Step Four that these constructions tend to convey low energy and thus make text less readable.

Audience contributions also added to the workshop’s value. Participants eagerly suggested exceptions to rules, or provided examples of constraints from their workplace. Hearing the experiences of other editors furthered my understanding of the negotiations that sometimes take place between editors and writers in different contexts.

Finally, the Eight-Step Editing workshop was a lot of fun. Jim’s warm, jovial manner and witty comments from the audience frequently elicited chortles, guffaws and even the occasional belly-laugh. Editors may often work in isolation, but they do have a sense of humour! I overheard the workshop’s organizer thank Jim for the enjoyable day and suggest that Eight-Step Editing become an annual event. I’d second that motion!

Eric Damer is a historian, author, editor and sometime blacksmith.

3 thoughts on “Stepping gracefully

  1. Anne Brennan says:

    I was at Jim’s workshop, too, and I agree with everything you’ve said, Eric. Even though I’ve been editing professionally for 30 years, I still learned some good lessons. 🙂 One of the most valuable was new ways to explain some of the principles of good prose to writers. I came away with some new phrases and examples that I’m sure I’ll use with authors in the future.

    Your comments about the value of hearing other participants’ observations and experiences are a great argument for taking a workshop even if you think you already know everything you need to about the subject (and especially if you don’t).

    Like

  2. Thanks for the review, Eric. It makes me want to take Jim’s workshop at the next opportunity! I’m sure your positive comments about Jim’s sense of humour and the value of audience participation will encourage others to take the workshop too.

    Like

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