The Editing Room

I thought you might like to peek into my workroom to see a sample or two of the “before and after” of story editing.

First, take a look at this story excerpt, which was written by my father, who was a good writer, but lacking polish. With his permission, I edited the manuscript to reduce some of it wordiness. The finished product contains all the essential information of the original, and retains also the voice of its writer, but flows more smoothly, with fewer words and none of the repetition in the unedited version.


“The success of our opening night indicated that we had a good thing going but that we’d have to make more adequate preparation for it. We knew we had to build some bleacher seats, so we got Charley Webb, our Reservoir Hill carpenter. For $40.00 he got some rough green oak from C.R. Howell and built us bleachers thirty feet long on the east and west sides of the ring, each section having eight rows. That was the only major improvement we made. We left the ring as it was. Building the bleachers prevented us from having a fight program the next week. The following Friday night we had our second program featuring, at the increased price of 15 cents per admission…”


After the success of our opening night, we raised the admission price to 15 cents and paid a carpenter to build us eight rows of 30-foot bleachers on each of two sides of the ring. The rest of the summer we had fights every two weeks, and our crowds grew bigger every fight night.

from “Bill and Berry’s Backyard Arena,” published in Good Old Days magazine, 2019.


Most often, I do the writing from the start. I take notes in an interview, and the notes look something like this…


“…lovely conversation then quiet for a second, then head director stood up and said, puedes ayudarnos” in really quiet voice, and I said, que necesita” our med labs in cuba do not do radio carbon dating for archeology and we were wondering if we could find a way to do radio carbon dating -can you help us- I can’t say yes or no-know no one, but have a boss and close to him and can ask, and if says no, will beg him-so talked another hour then by quarter to five all exhausted- so much gratitude and excitement over the occasion-meeting with archaeologists doing dig of ciboney Indians…”

and from these bare-bone notes, I write the story that my client wants to tell.


The exchange of ideas in mix-matched shards of both English and Spanish went on happily for hours until, at a pause in the excitement, one of the Cuban scientists asked quietly, “¿Puedes ayudarnos?”

“Can you help us?” he had asked, and after a moment’s hesitation, Patterson asked simply, “What do you need?”

He needed radiocarbon dating of the Ciboney artifact he held in his hand. Without the help of radiocarbon technology to give archaeologists the approximate age of the artifacts they were discovering, no accurate analysis of their finds could be made.

Whether American archaeologists will be allowed to assist is uncertain, but the histories of Florida and of Cuba have been interwoven at least since the European discovery of the  Americas; like quarreling lovers, we cannot long be separated.

The Cuban people say that our coming gives them hope. In their eyes rises, in mute supplication, the same question asked by the archaeologist, who, cradling in his palm a precious artifact of our shared human history, lifts it from the water asking, “¿Puedes ayudarnos?”

from “Local Photographer Brings Pine Islanders to Cuba,” Fort Myers News-Press, 2016