Who Needs An Editor

By Dawn Shamp, Table Rock Editor-in-Residence


Are my commas too common? Is there a cause for that clause? Are my words too wordy? Are they worthy?

There’s an editor for that.

All of us who put pen to paper or finger to keyboard need a skilled interloper to put helpful check marks, questions and ideas into our margins.

Writing is a cerebral and emotional process. It’s a public undoing of our private selves. Pride goeth into the mix, too, whether we admit it or not. Writing is personal. And it’s important.

Novel, essay, memoir, poem – we’re not committing this sweat, this effort, to language simply because we need something to line our underwear drawer or because we want to waste time on work we’ll be sending instantly to “delete.”

We want to share at least the best of our writing output, somehow. So we want it to be seamless. Unhampered by distractions in flow, syntax, spelling, style, cohesion, punctuation.

Wherever we are on the writing continuum, novice to seasoned word-slinger, we have a huge advantage if we understand two basic principles:

  1. There’s no shame in seeking help in wordsmithery;
  2. There’s no hope if we don’t.

In fact, those of us who have been in it for a decade or more have encountered more than a few writers wading in deep doo-doo because they “don’t-don’t” abide editing. We’ve been there, undone that.

Simply getting a fresh set of eyes on our manuscripts from an honest, encouraging, literate reader can often be helpful. Often. But not always. For example, most of us have had less-than-ideal experiences with amateur writing groups whose members may differ widely in talent, experience and preferences. Members’ feedback can be confusing, even maddening. Sadly, it leads some would-be writers to become so discouraged they throw in the towel.

I’ve been fortunate to experience excellent editing of my own published work. Each revelation from a deft proofreader and copyeditor makes me smile with appreciation and admiration, even as I also slap my forehead in disgust at my own stupid oversight.

Good editors have become my friends and mentors. And they’ve led me to my own career success in freelance editing.

Editing to New York publishing standards is a highly specialized trade. I spend many hours poring over a wide range of manuscripts. Sometimes I work weekends and holidays to meet deadlines. But I love it. And I’m never alone. I always have my most valued co-workers at my elbows: the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), 16th Edition and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition. They’re the bibles of the literary publishing world today. Others, too, join the fray.

Despite the countless hours I’ve spent wading through these tomes of taste, however, every new manuscript brings new challenges, surprises and style sheets.

It has helped me understand that as writers, we can’t furrow our brows over every nit that concerns picky editors. Most writers don’t need to know the frequently annoying minutiae of CMOS. That’s what editors are for. The writer’s overarching job is to spin a compelling piece of literature.

Bottom line: if we have a manuscript we plan to share with others, whether that means family and friends, self-published e-book readers or literary agents, we should take pride in it.

That means getting a tune-up from a professional editor who can share our vision while at the same time show us the typos, brainos and no-nos we’re sure to miss.

This is, after all, our progeny, and we don’t want to send it out the door trailing toilet paper from a shoe.

There’s an editor for that


To learn more about registering for the Table Rock Writers Workshop on September 8-12, 2014, click on this link:  tablerockwriters.com


Poet Phillip Shabazz to teach at Table Rock in 2014

Poet Phillip Shabazz joins us in 2014 with an inspiring class on poetry. Shabazz is a master teacher who can work with poets of all ages. He brings a world of life experiences to his own work and will help poets tap their own wellsprings.  Here is a poem from Phillip.  Please visit our website http://tablerockwriters.com to see all the offerings for this coming September 8-12, 2014 at the extraordinary Wildacres Retreat along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mountains of North Carolina.


Wishes For You

by Phillip Shabazz

I wish you the sun and stars sparkling

above the valley of pine trees and red clay earth,

and the flurry of green hills, flashy and timeless

like the emerald points around our homeland.

I wish you the moon and midnight rain, happiness,

long life, and shiny cards for your birthday and a picture

of Rosa Parks on your T-shirt; I wish you laughing children,

not masses of them, just a couple having fun

at the swimming pool, while a repairman fixes

the broken sink or dishwasher in your future

bungalow, condo, or beach house

breezy like a sand castle built on the Carolina coast.

I wish you enough bucks to spend on a wedding dress

and enough Benjamin’s for icing on the cake.

I wish you love from someone who really cares for you,

with soft-cheeks and a good heart; I wish you get to

see the wonders of rivers and mountains and sacred sites,

and read the inscription on Lady Liberty

which says Justice for All, and We The People;

so you can sing Stand Up For Your Rights

like you could always stand for something good.

I wish you an end to ghettos and war and kids dying

in the street and on the battlefield; I wish you live music,

house parties and concerts and fancy cars

that don’t depend on gas and oil and corporate empire.

I wish you never doubt yourself

and that your life turns out the way you want it to be

under this sky, this roof, this house and you can look back

at the world you made and smile.

Connect with your Inner Muse in North Carolina by Pat Keefe

Pat Keefe

Pat Keefe

Writers search for that perfect workshop to invoke their muse and send them into a writing frenzy.  On that journey, I followed the advice of Roberta Schultz and attended the Table Rock Writers’ Retreat near Little Switzerland, North Carolina in September 2012.

Traveling through the Blue Ridge Mountains on a rainy, windy Monday, we finally reached our destination.  The mountains were hidden under a deep misty fog, which made me think of the mystical village of Brigadoon.

Table Rock writers meet at Wildacres Retreat for five days and four nights The classes are limited to twelve people, allowing for personal attention and classmate collaboration.  Three hour writing workshops are the heart of the week-long event. Instructors and special speakers provide afternoon discussion sessions followed by “Table Rock Trivia” in which alert participants may win prizes for answering factual questions about the presentations. Wine and cheese on the terrace, overlooking the fabulous mountain view, highlight the hour before dinner. Participants sign up to share writing one evening during the week.

I spent my week freewriting with Abigail DeWitt in the novel writing class.  A veteran novelist, Abigail kept the group engaged and facilitated great sharing among class writers.  On the first day we knew it wasn’t going to be a one notebook week as we frantically filled pages writing with no electronic devices.  I learned about my novel direction, about the motivations of my characters, and about myself as a writer. It was the most unique approach to writing I ever experienced.  I’m still answering questions from that week.

In 2013, writing classes will include “The Sublime Fiction Triangle” with Darnell Arnoult, “Poetry” with Joseph Bathanti; “Writing for Children and Young Adults”with John Claude Bemis;  “Jumping In: A Guide to Writing Your Novel” with Abigail DeWitt, and “Writing Memoir and Personal Narrative” with Judy Goldman.  Registration forms are available online at http://tablerockwriters.com/trww2013.pdf

Table Rock is the best writing workshop I have ever attended.  It surpassed my expectations and provided a welcoming non-threatening writing climate.  Whether you are a veteran writer who has attended many weeks of workshops or a novice trying a retreat out for the first time, you may feel like you have stumbled on a mythical Brigadoon that you hope will never disappear from the mountain. As another 2012 participant sums up, “Best-taught, best-run, most-fun.”

Patricia Keefe, MAE, is a Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellow who attended Table Rock in 2012 as part of a writing project.  Her work has been published in the Indiana English Journal. Pat has written the Just for Kids column in The Shoals News for over two decades. She writes Flash Fiction every Saturday with the 24 Exposure online writing group and reads stories in the “Keep Hearing Voices” show on Crescent Hill Radio in Louisville. As a National Writing Project Teaching Consultant, she participates in the Indiana University Southeast Writer’s Project with Dr. Kevin S. Bailey in New Albany, Indiana.

Children’s Writing Added to Table Rock Workshop: Piedmont Laureate John Claude Bemis Will Teach

An inspiring presenter and award-winning children’s book writer, John Claude Bemis has agreed to teach in 2013 at the Table Rock Writers Workshop.  ImageBemis was also recently named  the 2013 Piedmont Laureate.  His first novel in the Clockwork Dark trilogy, The Nine Pound Hammer, won the AAUW North Carolina Award for Juvenile Literature, was nominated for the North Carolina Children’s Book Award, and was selected as a New York Public Library Best Children’s Book for Reading and Sharing. John’s trilogy continues with The Wolf Tree and The White City and has been described as “original and fresh” and “a unique way of creating fantasy.” His latest novel The Prince Who Fell from the Sky was an Amazon Best Book of the Month.  John is represented by Adams Literary, and his novels are published by Random House.

Former student Bradley Scheel says, “John is the rare artist who is so passionate about the craft that he is willing to share everything he has on the subject freely and without reserve. Every moment was fun, every class inspirational. No time will be more wisely spent.”

John’s section of the five-day, Table Rock workshop will be an opportunity for aspiring and seasoned children’s book writers to gather in an intimate and inspiring setting to deepen your writing craft.  (The focus will be on longer manuscripts for middle grade or young adult readers, not picture books.) Come with a willingness to engage in rich conversations, to participate in fun activities that will expand your skills and imagination, and a desire to take your writing to the next level. You will leave with new insights into character, plot, scene, and setting, creative new exercises for developing wildly original ideas, and an entirely new vision for how to improve your story. Be sure to bring your current work-in-process, since there will be dedicated time each day to write in the magical setting of the North Carolina mountains.


For more information on the Table Rock Writers Workshop, held September 9-13, 2013 at Wildacres Retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, please visit http://tablerockwriters.com.  Classes are small, register early.  All meals and accommodations are included.

North Carolina Poet Laureate will teach at Table Rock in 2013

bathanti_jospehLast September when we were gathered for our last evening on the mountain at the Table Rock Writers Workshop, we knew that our dear friend and colleague Joseph Bathanti was just that minute being celebrated in Raleigh by the North Carolina Arts Council. Joseph had just been selected from the very wide and deep field of talented North Carolina poets to serve as our state’s poet laureate. Joseph is now touring the state giving readings, teaching workshops in places where poetry may not be the norm, and generally bearing his gregarious self with equal measures of humility and humor.  In short, Joseph is doing what he’s always been doing since moving to North Carolina as a VISTA volunteer in 1976.

Joseph’s poetry is musical and sublime, whether he is writing about the remnants of the Confederacy that haunt Anson County or the dangers of house hunting on high cliffs in a western North Carolina winter. Joseph’s blue-collar-Pittsburgh roots inform his vision and the sharp turns of his lines.  He is our Philip Levine (the U.S. Poet Laureate for 2011-2012).  Like Levine, Bathanti often writes about the world of physical labor, whether it is a memory of his father’s daily pilgrimage to the steel mills or his wife’s work in bearing two remarkable sons–Jacob and Beckett–who are now making their way in the world with considerable gifts and grace as a result of their joyous upbringing.

Joan Bathanti, Joseph’s life partner, born and raised in Georgia, was also a VISTA volunteer, and North Carolina was their matchmaker. That must be why Joseph has worked so hard to reward every borough and backwood in these 100 counties with a word picture.  When I was compiling the Literary Trails of North Carolina series for UNC Press, Joseph was the go-to poet.  He had a poem about most everywhere.  He had already discovered that cemetery near the South Carolina border that requires a spooky hike through pine barrens to visit the graves of those rugged early settlers who harvested tar here in the 1700s. Joseph had already observed and written about  dock workers unloading  boats at Wanchese, simultaneously musing at the numbing challenges that must have worn down  the Lost Colony. His poems are by turns tender and terrifying, always asking hard questions, always wondering at the foibles of humans and angels.

As if his poetry were not enough, Joseph has also written novels and story collections that benefit mightily from his poet’s ear and eye. But finally it is the bond of friendship, his role as a masterbuilder of our North Carolina literary family, that is the measure of Joseph Bathanti.  That is  why I could shoot him an e-mail in the midst of his busiest year as our state’s new poet laureate and within an hour he would answer, saying yes to teaching for us this fall at Table Rock.

–Georgann Eubanks, Table Rock Writers Workshop

Please visit our website and consider joining us this year, September 9-13, 2013 for the Table Rock Writers Workshop.

Creating Characters from Everyday Experience by Anna Jean Mayhew

After a trip to Wal-Mart my Swiss-born husband told me, “The man who checked me out heard my accent and asked, ‘Sprechen sie Deutsche?’ He told me that his father came over from Germany after World War II, and never learned English, so his seven children all speak German.” I began to think about someone living many years in America without speaking English, and how astonishing it was that a man with two languages—unusual in this country—would wind up clerking at Wal-Mart. What’s his story?

In my workshop at Table Rock, I’ll ask you to carry paper and pen with you at all times, and to make notes on pieces of stories you stumble on in the course of your daily life. Maybe you’re in a convenience store because you didn’t get a receipt at the gas pump. The cash register is out of paper, and while the clerk changes it, you’re compelled to wait. The clerk hollers to someone in the back of the store, “When’s Roxie getting here? I gotta go.” What is the clerk’s story? Who is Roxie, and why is he/she late? If Roxie is a man, how did he get such a feminine name? (Think of “A Boy Named Sue,” by Johnny Cash) A voice from the back of the store responds, “Cool your jets.” Who is that? What has happened to make her/him grouchy?

Over the years I’ve made notes about characters I’ve stumbled on. Sometimes I use these scribbles to create a complex individual, but many of the notes are just stored on my computer, available when I need a prompt. An example: I was on my way into work and walked through a group of smokers puffing away in the bitter cold of a January morning. A man had his arms resting on a woman’s shoulders, looking her in the eyes, and I heard him tell her something as I passed by. Phonetically it sounded like, “Ah ain nuddin out chew.” I entered the building, walked down several long halls, and went up three floors on the elevator, repeating those sounds in my head. By the time I got to my office, I heard in my mind’s ear, “I ain’t nothing without you.” A sweet declaration of love. Was the couple married or had they just started dating? Was the woman a smoker, too, or was she braving the icy wind just to be with him on a coffee break? Maybe I had misinterpreted the remark, and they were a brother and sister who had recently lost their mother. What are other possibilities?

I’m going to challenge the people in my workshop to craft personalities from snippets of conversation or from seeing someone standing in line at a bus stop—any chance encounter—to create a character from found objects.

There are a few spots left in A.J. Mayhew’s workshop section at Table Rock Writers Workshop this fall. Join us September 17-21, 2012 on the Blue Ridge Parkway about an hour east of Asheville for an extraordinary experience.  See our website. Beautiful mountain views, excellent meals, noncompetitive environment of beginning and seasoned writers.

Free Writing by Abigail DeWitt

For almost thirty years, I’ve started every class the same way: whether I’m teaching composition to eighteen-year-olds or the novel to retirees, I give my students a prompt—something like the house I grew up in smelled like —and tell them to “free-write” whatever comes into their minds for fifteen minutes.  They must write without stopping, without worrying about spelling, grammar, punctuation, or even making sense. They don’t have to write about the way their houses smelled; they can write about how their feet are itching. They can make a shopping list, or a list of baby names, or a list of favorite profanities. They can write their names over and over, or they can write about what a stupid exercise I’ve given them. All that matters is that their pens or pencils don’t stop moving, and that they don’t cross anything out.

In part, I start off with this exercise simply to give my students an alternative to staring at a blank page. I spent so much time hunched over blank pages when I was young that the thought of it still chills me. I’d rather scribble what should I writet write werite I don’t know today I knew yesterday but not today  than worry about crafting the perfect opening line. Once there are words on the page—even nonsensical words—I start to relax. I remember that a preliminary draft need not be a completely serious undertaking. Revision and editing require careful attention and discernment, but producing a first draft is something else altogether. Let’s say, for example, that I want to write a story about a young, healthy woman named Mary who works in a morgue. I could try to come up with an image to suggest the conflict between Mary’s vitality and the death all around her, or I could play: What should I write Mary oh mary who works at the morgue who washes the bodies in the cool room with the bins and shelves of bodies so orderly and clean not like her house which is a disaster of egg-caked plates in the dish drain…There will be serious work down the road, but just getting words on the page—giving myself something to work with—can be as fun and loose as a game.

What’s more, once I have those words on the page, the work of revising and editing is not nearly as hard as it seems when I’m staring at nothing. After my students have “free-written” for fifteen minutes, I ask volunteers to read their pages aloud. People are often pleasantly surprised to discover that, mixed in with the “nonsense,” are some wonderful ideas and images and even mini-scenes they can use in their “real” writing. Sometimes, people find that, with minimal punctuation, they’ll be able to use their free-writing verbatim; sometimes, it’s pure nonsense, and that’s fine, too—they only spent fifteen minutes on it.

The truth is, free-writing doesn’t just help with writer’s block; it helps us generate our best work. It’s a form of improvisation that allows us to bypass the rational mind and draw on the rich material of unconscious. Ironically, free-writing works best when we follow very strict rules: our hand must never stop moving, there must be no crossing out, we must begin and end at a set time. (The reasons for the set time are a topic for another day.) The only optional part is what to do about the prompt.  After all, it isn’t free writing if you have to write about the smell of your childhood home. But you may find yourself writing about the smell of baby names, or the profanities that were beloved in your childhood home. And then—and here’s the wonderful thing—the smell of baby names may lead you to think of a particular baby’s smell, and the strange circumstances of his birth, and suddenly, when you least expect it, you have a story.

Come join Abigail and our happy band of serious writers for free writing and more at the Table Rock Writers Workshop, September 17-21, 2012 in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Abigail will be teaching long form fiction writing.  See details at: tablerockwriters.com