I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Monday, November 1, 2010

Above All Else--Voice

My friend, Scoti, is an opera singer.

She doesn't star in productions of La traviata or Carmen. Rather, Scoti's writing voice rings out like a strong, passionate opera singer who takes center stage, commanding the audience's attention.

There was a time when I tried to tone Scoti down.

She turned an article in for critique--and critique it, I did. I tightened sentences, deleted adjectives, shut the gate on rabbit trails, switched the order of paragraphs, changed her introduction and her conclusion--whew! By the time I was done, her article was the best I could make it.

That was the problem.

Because we'd built up enough trust, Scoti could be completely honest with me. She told me that I'd stripped any sound of her voice out of her article and made it my own.

I wanted to argue, to defend my critique. To insist that I was right and she was oh, so wrong.

But then I realized I committed an editor's worse sin: I rewrote an author's article so that it sounded like me.

When you are given the responsibility--the privilege, really--of critiquing another person's words, ask yourself: Am I undermining this writer's voice? Am I changing this article or this chapter so it sounds like my voice?

If you are, then put your red pen down. Back away from the critique until you can respect the writer's voice.

So, back to my opera-writer friend, Scoti. What did I do when I realized my editorial faux pas?

First, I apologized. Then I promised to always respect her voice--to let her be true to herself, adjectives, emotions and all. We started over on that article and by the time we were done, her words sang and her voice shone through.

We're able to joke about her opera-writing ways now. I remind her that rabbit trails still aren't allowed. Opera singers have to find their mark and are only allowed to sing one aria at a time. That translates into the writing world as meaning she can only have one main thought per article.

Taking time to be thankful:
I'm thankful for our fellow Ponderer, Teri, being released from the hospital! Although she can't travel back to the States yet, I'm thankful she and her daughter are now staying with friends in England. I am also thankful for each and every person who prayed for Teri when she suffered a stroke from an aneurysm.

The MBT Ponderers have put together a Thankful Basket. If you'd like to have a chance to win our basket of goodies, leave a comment during the month of November. Share a thought about a blog post or tell us what you're thankful for!


  1. Great post, Beth. It's such an easy trap to fall into--critiquing someone's writing and it ends up sounding like our own. Thanks for the reminder. I, too, am so thankful Teri is on the mend. Can't wait until she's back home.

  2. Oh, this is an excellent post, Beth. You perfectly illustrated my biggest hurdle with critiquing. It's hard to be both a writer and an editor, don't you think? It helps to be in a group that is understanding and forgiving. As writers, we need to not be defensive, even if others rewrite our work in their voice, but to sort out what really needs to be changed. You and Scoti are wonderful examples of how that works. Thank you.

  3. I think learning to critique takes time and trust--and knowing both your voice and the other writers' voices. It doesn't come easily.

  4. Beth, the kindness and sensitivity of your life comes through so beautifully in this. Thank you for learning this editing (really, life lesson) and handling each of so gently. And being with your friends was almost (but not quite) like having you with us.

  5. As always, thanks for the encouragement, Dee! Some things we learn the hard way, don't we? There was a time when when an editor constantly rewrote my articles to sound like his voice--you'd think I'd know better.
    Now one of my major goals as an editor is to help a writer find their voice--and to help them hit all the right notes in their writing.

  6. Great post, Beth.

    I am very thankful that Miss Teri is out of the hospital! Her recovery is a wonderful testimony to the power of prayer. God does hear His children and answers when they call. :)

  7. Thank you, Angela.
    And yes, I am so, so thankful for God's continued grace to Teri!

  8. Beth, I loved the analogy you used with opera and voice! It's such a great word picture. :) Thank you for the reminder of respecting others' voices. It fits with writing and in life. :) For what it's worth, I think you do a great job! :)

  9. What a great post, Beth! It takes a clever editor, I think, to give a good critique while not messing with a writer's voice. Loved the opera analogy!

    Yay for Teri's recovery!!

  10. At one time or another, we will each have the chance to weigh in on another writer's words. The key word is "respect." Let them sing the song in their key--even if it's not your favorite style of music. If they sing country, so be it. If they sing blues, that's okay too.
    Now when the writing's off-key . . . that's when TEE steps up to the plate!

  11. Wonderful post TEE. Thank you for sharing the real you, red pen and all!

    I share your gratitude about our dear Ponderer Teri. God will not rest until He completes his work in her!

  12. Tee, you never cease to impress me. I think you are excellent at that now, you never murder my voice.

  13. Thanks, Amy.
    I learned the lesson the hard way.
    But I am determined to never repeat that mistake!
    I love your writing--and your first line of your WIP is fantastic!

  14. Reebs, might as well be honest, eh?
    To me, that's the hallmark of good writing: honesty.

  15. I'm late to the party, but your post is still as enlightening today as it was yesterday when you posted it. Your relationship with Scoti shows your trust and respect toward one another. Signs of humble writers. :)