When Gabi Coatsworth (right), a former workshop colleague of mine, spoke to our Library writers’ group a couple of months ago, she gave us five commandments on how to go from being a regular workshopper to a regularly published writer. Over the past several years, Gabi has made that successful transition. Her credits include short stories, personal essays, poems and, currently, a compelling series—“Bipolar Planet”—at the online magazine The Good Men Project.
The first four of her commandments: Write every day, if only for 10 minutes so you can say you achieved your goal; be unafraid to write badly because at the least you’ll get a first draft done; expect rejections, lots of them; and continue to revise and submit your work. Gabi’s feel-good tale exemplifying the last concerned “Making Peace,” which began, in March 2001, as a 500-word homework response to a workshop prompt to write about posting a letter. She revised it many times over the years in different writing groups. “Making Peace” was published, as a short story of more than 1,900 words, in the Fall 2008 issue of Rio Grande Review.
Employ a professional editor to read your work is Gabi’s last commandment. Do it after your piece has been workshopped, but before you submit it.
Why take that extra step, one that will cost you money? Gabi says that in a workshop, your colleagues know you and know what you are trying to say in your story. They are reading what you want to say even if you haven’t really said it. The same drawback applies when you ask a friend to edit your work, even if she or he hasn’t seen it before. The friend will read between the lines about what you are trying to say. As Gabi puts it, if the value of professional editing rates a score of 100, the value of a friend editing your work rates about a 20.
A disinterested, professional editor will be reading your work fresh. The editor will point out holes in your story that you must fill, rough or muddy passages of writing and storytelling that you must smooth and clarify, and unnecessary words and scenes that you must cut. At a minimum, the editor will spot typographical and grammatical mistakes, and instances of discontinuity, such as inadvertently using the wrong character’s name. Gabi advises agreeing on a price before you have something edited. In the end, whether you pay a flat fee or an hourly rate, it will be money well spent.—Alex McNab