No good piece gets published without help. Friends advise but they are generally too kind to comment truthfully. What’s really helpful is someone who doesn’t know you, who isn’t invested in your feelings. Further, after broad strokes are applied in a revision, you need the persnickety help that only comes with an editor, sometimes a team of editors.
Let’s step back. I first started on my Temenos published essay (internal link) by writing it as a final assignment in a creative nonfiction course. My instructor liked it and recommended I try to to get it published. He offered some suggestions and I carefully considered his remarks.
Here begins the long editing process. Note how he pays me a compliment first, which I think is essential to preserving any writer’s ego:
You’ve written a wonderful, painful, engrossing essay: your best piece submitted in this course. It’s a gripping and difficult story, and you tell it with narrative energy driven by a clear, crisp, muscular prose. I think of Orwell’s famous saying about good prose being like a clear windowpane. Yours is pristine.
I think you could publish this essay, after some minor changes, in a literary magazine like “The Sun,” “Creative Nonfiction,” or–perhaps even better–“Bellevue Literary Review,” which focuses on broad topics of health, illness, mind and body.
Then he gets down to specifics, all of which I agreed with. I revised my essay as close to his suggestions as possible. I even changed the title, which was originally called “Your Mother’s Voice.” The instructor’s remarks would make more sense if you read the first draft of the essay (internal link), but let’s pass on that for now. He commented:
First, in the pivotal scene about the telephone call, you may need to clarify what Rebecca actually heard. When I first read it, I thought she handled a normal phone call and then was reacting to your unusual behavior and exclamation. So, did she understand that something was wrong with Jim but didn’t want to say anything yet because the facts weren’t clear? Or did she not understand what his son was saying? One clarifying sentence may do the job.
Second: after finishing my reading, I looked at the title again and wondered if it is THE best title for your essay. I’m not convinced that it is. It doesn’t seem to clearly encapsulate the core experience and questions. Give it some thought as you revise.
Third (and this is less critical but still worth considering): Is there an iconic or universal story out there involving a premonition of bad news that you could include/refer to (in just a couple of sentences) in order for readers to think about your experience in the context of another? My sense is that it would lend context and further depth for your discussion of the paranormal.
Now, we come to the persnickety editing I talked about. My writing style is fairly spare, with as few commas and words as I can get away with. Not everyone is keen on this. Did you catch that last sentence? Most people would say “Not everyone is keen on this approach.” But I am always axing words.
To take a look at what the Temenos staff contributed, click on the next link. It will call up a Word file (internal link) with the suggestions they made. There are dozens! This is a real benefit of being published by a literary magazine. They will take the time to work with you to produce something that satisfies the writer and the reader. I accepted all of their revisions en masse. I’m not a diva, I am not self-publishing and I am not in love with all those commas. I want the piece to succeed. Every writer needs an editor.