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The power of why: Editor's Notes #312
April 28, 2020

Why do writers write?
Because it isn’t there.

—Thomas Berger

In this issue:

1. The power of why
2. Tickled my funny bone
3. Interesting Web site
4. Writing prompt
5. Writer’s Helper response to Covid-19

1. The power of why
What is the power of why to you as a writer, to your readers, to your editor? How can you harness the power of why?

First, if you have never asked yourself why you write, I highly suggest you spend some time on that topic. Your answers may change over time. Mine have. Writing well is hard work, and if you don’t know why you are doing it, you may give up when knowing the stakes might keep you plugging away. But this article isn’t about why you write.

Second, if you have never asked yourself why your readers would read what you right, I highly suggest you spend some time on that topic, too. Having a clear focus on your reader can keep you from getting lost in many unproductive side roads. But this article isn’t about why your readers would read your material.

Third, we get to the purpose of this article, how to help you think a bit more like an editor when the editor is sitting in front of a manuscript asking, "Why?" I’m assuming here that you revise your own work. (Not daily, and not even weekly or monthly, but at least when you think you are done.) When you revise, you make your work better.

Editors routinely find ourselves looking at a book on various levels: the whole book, each chapter, each paragraph, each sentence, each word. Here’s how I harness the power of why.

The first two levels (book and chapter) are big enough that I spend time thinking about them independently.

Overall, what is the value of the book? Why would someone spend money and time on it? If there is nothing to make it stand out, it’s probably not going anywhere. Happily, because books are art, there is usually at least some value in any book. Then I ask, "Is there a way to increase its value?"

At the chapter level, is every chapter important enough to keep? Sometimes a chapter can be condensed into a paragraph or two. It’s not unusual to throw a chapter or two completely away. A chapter is a big piece of writing, so it should have a weighty answer to the why-are-you-here question. And again, I look for ways to increase the value of the chapter.

For me, the next three levels (paragraph, sentence, and word) are small enough that, for the sake of time, I rely on my experience and gut reactions to decide where to focus the why questions. If there is any niggling discomfort as I read, I pay attention. Why am I uncomfortable with what I’m reading? Why is that paragraph, sentence, or word there? Is there an alternative? Is the alternative better than the original?

Often, I can’t figure out what the problem is right away. When that happens, I mark the problem area and carry on editing.

Later, I go back and stay with the bit that troubles me until I have a suggested fix or at least until I can articulate what the problem is so the writer can have a go at figuring out the solution.

Why can be a powerful question. Applied regularly to your writing, it can lead you to writing that you and others can have confidence in.

2.Tickled my funny bone
Why is it called "after dark" when it is really "after light?"
With thanks to S.

3. Interesting Web site
Let me introduce you to Pluto who lights up my life no matter how grim things may seem.

4. Writing prompt
Here’s your chance. Write about why you write. You can make a list or develop one big idea or simply ponder the possibilities. Whatever you choose to do will help ground you as you continue to climb Writing Mountain.

5. Writer’s Helper response to Covid-19
I’m grateful for the support of our local community to this crisis, and I want to make a difference in return. Along with sharing information and as it comes to me and little cheery bits like Pluto, I am offering a deep discount to writers for as long as this crisis continues. Seems that may be a lot longer than I anticipated when I chose to do this, but I still stand by this decision.

What follows is a copy and paste from issue number 309. It’s still in force for you and anyone you choose to tell about it.

Along with the health threat hanging over the world, we are facing a huge financial hit. I’ve decided one thing I can do is to make quality editing less expensive during this trying time.

For subscribers to Editor’s Notes and their friends, I am suspending the fee for the sample edit to anyone using the code EN19 until I cancel this offer. I intend to keep this offer open as long as the world is in crisis with Covid-19 and its aftermath, so watch this space. I will give a warning here before I pull this offer. You can submit your writing sample at Be sure to click the link below the heading "Promotion Code" to get to the special form for a free sample edit. If you find yourself at a form before clicking the special link, scroll slowly back up the page, and you should see the link for the code (EN19).

But it gets better…

When I return an edited writing sample, I include quotes for the full range of my editing services. Until further notice, I will give a true quote, but I will not charge writers the full amount. I am discounting my services 50% for subscribers to Editor’s Notes and their friends. I will give a warning here before I pull this offer.

Feel free to pass this offer along to any writing friends you think may be interested. As long as anyone uses the code, I’ll honour the offer.

This is what I can offer you in this time of crisis. I hope it encourages you as you face possible illness and financial uncertainty.

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