What Real Estate Taught Me About Editing

My home in Boise was for sale recently – it isn’t anymore, but I put it on the market for a few weeks in anticipation of perhaps making a move to California.

In the process, photos had to be taken to post with the listing online. The real-estate company hired a professional photographer to do the job. (The pic at left is one I took, not one of the professional shots.)

Before ‘picture day,’ I spent way too much time dusting, decluttering, and arranging only the coolest of my tchotchkes and live plants in each room.

I thought the place looked perfect!

And then…one of the Realtors showed up early with a box of her own tchotchkes and a pile of decorative pillows. She swooped into every room, gathering up each and every item I had carefully selected for display and replacing it with her own stuff. She also took every kitchen appliance off the counters – toaster oven, coffeemaker, etc. – and hid it all in the laundry room.

She was pleasant, but no nonsense. She moved furniture around. Heck, she even took most of the live plants off the windowsills, and replaced a beautiful, blooming African violet on my dining table with a nondescript fake plant. I was stunned.

“Do you think maybe folks would want to know that humans live here?” I quipped at one point. I must confess, my feelings were a little hurt that she dismissed my (perfectly good) taste and choices.

The more I think about this experience, the more parallels I see in my own work as an editor. Writers turn in what they surely view as their best work – stuff they’re proud of and have thought a lot about – and maybe eight times out of ten, I clear entire sentences off their ‘mantels.’ Too wordy! Not conversational enough! Where’s the balance in this news story?

I move sentences around, or replace them entirely. I demand more information. In short, I’m a tough editor. I’ve always been proud of that. But now, I see it a little differently.

I’m going to try harder to maintain the writer’s unique voice instead of rewriting it the way I wish they’d drafted it in the first place. I’m going to praise good work more often instead of picking apart what doesn’t work.

You might say I’m going to admire their “tchotchkes” as part of their own style. And if I feel their choices need improvement, I’ll explain my reasons and ask their opinions. I think we’ll both feel better about the results.