When I finally got the honor of being Frank Klausz’s editor, I was curious as to what sort of manuscript he would turn in. I was curious because I had read almost everything out there with Klausz’s byline on it.
Some of his stories sounded just like he talks. With his Hungarian accent, his pacing and his refreshing bluntness intact. Other stories sounded like Klausz had just graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
The manuscript arrived by mail. It was two pages, hand-typed and single-spaced. The text immediately brought a smile to my face because it was pure Klausz. Graceful but firm. No adverbs or complex sentence structures.
I handed it to a junior editor to input the text and clean up any errant typos. A few hours later, he showed up at my desk with an unsure look on his face.
“This manuscript needs a lot of work,” he said. “I might not get it back to you for a couple days.”
Seriously? Two typewritten pages? It should be done before you head home.
“The sentences are just so weird,” he said. “I basically need to rewrite the whole thing so it makes sense.”
You want to rewrite Klausz? So he makes sense? Just type it in, and I’ll do the edit.
I barely changed a word of the manuscript, and I was done with the story before I went home that night.
When it comes to editing, I try to take the lightest hand possible. The goal is to preserve the writer’s voice and even amplify it by removing redundant words and phrases that slow things down.
This is not always possible. Some people simply cannot write in a straight line. The text is circular, like a mandala. And every point they make has three digressions. Or they suffer from explaining things in minute detail for the first half of the manuscript. And then run out of patience for the second (3,000 words on stock prep. And then “…simply build all the doors and drawers. Add your favorite finish. The end”).
I send these writers a copy of “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser (used copies are $1) and ask them to follow this book like it was a holy text.
My approach isn’t the dominant one in woodworking publishing. Most editors try to make the writer’s text as easy to digest as possible – thinking they are doing a service to the reader. What they have really done is taken a Cuban sandwich and reduced it to Zwieback.
Though it makes me crazy, I know that some readers appreciate this sort of editing.
When I first met the editors of Woodsmith magazine, I was excited to talk to them about their editorial process. They managed to convey immense amounts of information into a small space. Plus they didn’t take advertisements (back in the day). And they had an immensely loyal subscriber base – the most loyal, in fact.
The Woodsmith editors were really nice and open about how they worked. One of the junior editors then remarked: “Well, first you have to learn to speak Don.”
The founder of Woodsmith, Don Peschke, is a bit of a legend in woodworking publishing (ask him about his hot tub). And when new editors came on board they had to learn to write like Don Peschke wrote. So that the entire magazine sounded like Don Peschke.
Oh, so that’s why they didn’t have bylines on their stories.
I totally get their approach. You want to do everything you can to help the reader digest complex technical information. Removing a language barrier is one way to do it.
But not me. I think of visiting Frank Klausz in his shop one time when he was railing against some video he had seen on sharpening.
“I would not sell that,” he exclaimed, “to a monkey.”
I feel certain Don Peschke never said that.
— Christopher Schwarz
23 thoughts on “Don’t Lose Your Voice”
Ahhhhhhhh. Light dawns on Marblehead.
I’ve read a million woodworking magazines. The one I have read the least is Woodsmith. But I never gave much thought as to why. Now I know.
In Ron Hock’s The Perfect Edge, when he covered rust removal by electrolysis, he said to use a handful of soda and then gave a metric conversion of a handful (1.2). I’m glad some overzealous editor didn’t remove that silliness because it enhanced the book for me.
That’s hilarious and likely went over some heads.
I had to chuckle at the keeping a writer’s voice comment because I have heard that same thing many times from my wife. She has been editing articles and books for almost 40 years even when she was teaching high school history/English. Fortunately for me, she edited my papers for both of my graduate degrees. At first this was a painful process (“What do you mean it isn’t clear? You’re crazy! I understand it.”) but eventually I caught on and became a much better writer.
I’ve seen that sharpening video.
I’ve also seen Frank at early WWIAs. Thanks for keeping his voice across the void separating a conversation and written text.
My favorite Krause line from his: Hand Tools: with Frank Klausz. “The straight edge is rocking.” In my many years working for a a large woodworking retailer the above video looped daily for years in the store. All I will say is that every woodworker should have and watch this over and over. Classic and guaranteed you will learn something new every time.
The family Zinsser primer paint is still the best and nobody beats William’s primer on how the write clearly.
Your advice is perfection
ouchh! I saw that….
Editing technical writing from junior engineers is entertaining. One used “y’all” in a technical paper.
Haha. I approve.
The Art of Readable Writing by Rudolph Flesch, still a classic after all these years.
Off topic, I LOVE the proportions of those dovetails.
When I was an apprentice machinist we had inspectors (editors) looking over our shoulder, checking our work. No one, journeymen included liked the inspectors. A couple of the old timers had a sign in their toolboxes that summed up their thoughts about the situation. It read, ” We never make mistrakes.”
We had a little airgun website that my neighbor (born and raised in Czechoslovakia) would write articles for. I edited them – and he gave me so much grief for it! But he could be clear as mud so something had to be done. But I would toss the rewrite back at him for his input so it was a two way street.
Interesting post and I really appreciate the fact that the text wraps properly so I don’t have to open the email individually and then maximize the window to read the whole entry.
Zinsser rocks. Still.
I love how Frank speaks. It’s blunt. It’s minimal. There’s no waste. It’s the information you need to know, nothing more and nothing less.
I’ve taken two classes with Frank and I wish I could take ten more.
Recommended books for learning to write without all the academic BS – one being an example from a technical subject where the instructions really matter. “Several short sentences about writing” by Verlyn Klinkenborg. “How to abandon ship” by Richards and Banigan.
Did you know that Frank Klausz’s son did a dissertation about cutting cove’s on the table saw while at Harvard. He authored an article about it in Finewood Woodworking (September/October 1993) but the original thesis is much more in depth and quite practical. I have a copy in m files if you are interested.
Now I have to read this
Good editors are a pearl beyond price. It turns writing into an equal partnership that makes the material so much better. I have had good editors and it really made a difference. My undying thanks to them for gently teaching me along the way.
Editing is also a two-way street. I’ve worn the editorial hat for short and long-form works, and hoo boy — such violent pushback! You’d think the author was Moses with tablets from god. I now know why editors turn to drink. 😀
Ernie Pyle, the front-line WWII correspondent who created the genre, had a unique folksy voice. If you read the compiled accounts of his work from beginning to end, it is clear that he, and his editors, developed a more sophisticated voice over time – still folksy but with great depth. The last few chapters in “Brave Men” deliver the horrors of the beaches of Normandy and the march on Berlin with almost poetic understatement.
That image deserves to be a poster! Having that image in the shop would be enough to keep one on their toes. Great photo of one of the very best craftsman, communicators and teachers.
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