Monday, March 2, 2009

"Boil It Down"

A good editor is endlessly curious ... isn't afraid to ask questions ... cares deeply about readers and writers ... deplores mediocrities ...
loves words ... is opinionated ... can be stubborn ... knows how to listen ... knows when to revise ... is reasonable ... and knows how to make good stock.

A couple of years into my writing career I was sitting across the desk from an older woman editor who was considering my magazine article. "You need to boil this down," she said glancing up. I'm fairly certain that my reply was swift and professional and something along the lines of, "huh?"

Before I left her office that afternoon I had a better understanding of how and why I needed to edit better. Using cooking as the analogy she explained that writing well was a lot like making good stock. Stock is an essential ingredient in many dishes and is made by reducing the liquid (usually water) that meat, seafood, or veg tables are cooked in. What is left is a flavorful broth or stock that can be used for making sauces, gravy, soups or stews. The better the stock, the better the dish. I also had a copy of the poem "Boil It Down."

Boil It Down
(Anonymous )

If you've got a thought that's happy,

Boil it down.

Make it short and crisp and snappy,

Boil it down.

When your brain its coin has minted,

Down the page your pen has sprinted,

If you want your effort printed,

Boil it down.

Take out every surplus letter,

Boil it down.

Fewer syllables the better,

Boil it down.

Make your meaning plain.

Express it so we'll know not merely guess it;

then my friend ere you address it,

Boil it down.

Cut out all the extra trimmings,

Boil it down.

Skim it well, then skim the skimmings,

Boil it down.

When you're sure 'twould be a sin to

Cut another sentence into, send it on, and we'll begin to,


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