Editing for Writing

Maybe it’s because NaNoWriMo has just started, but I find myself editing quite a bit in the last few months. Friends have sent me academic theses, personal essays, narrative stories, science fiction, even magical realism pieces.

And I love it.

I like settling in to read, and if need be, taking apart bits and pieces and reorganizing them to fit into an article that feels right. The idea of taking raw, sometimes jumbled thoughts, and rearranging them – it feels like a puzzle and the satisfaction of making the pieces fit into a cohesive whole. It’s addicting, and I thoroughly enjoy doing it.

One story turned from a very blah piece to one that I thought was really good. I did it again recently, and I’ve been doing it with the handicap of trying to preserve the actual sentences of the writer. I would start at a different place, shuffle swaths of text, and only add a little bit as glue to fuel smoother transitions, cement an ending, or emphasize themes.

In this latest article, I had the idea of layering it. Usually I explain what I did and sometimes do a rewrite in demonstration. But this time I had the idea of doing it piece by piece, rewriting the article for every specific layer and change I focused on – which made sense because the act of actually rewriting clarifies more and more what needs correcting. I realized I did this process mentally with several other articles and they’ve only truly crystallized now. Here’s what I did:

  1. Layer 1 – Reorganization. Dramatic lede. Better transitions
  2. Layer 2 – Adding in a personal narrative – present tense that acts a loose scaffold to fill in information and commentary. Adds movement and immediacy
  3. Layer 3 – Work on a good ending. Ideally should tie themes, symbolism, and connect with the beginning. If not, it should feel….right
  4. Layer 4 – Details. Descriptions. Color, smells, visualizations – I want the reader to have all senses possible engaged.
  5. Layer 5 – Thematic pillars. I want to hone in on them – I extract them, then emphasize them

Now obviously not all of this applies to all work. But as someone who feels very stressed writing anything, I wondered at my eagerness to jump into this. And here’s what I think.

I think that when I write I’m visualizing the perfect piece. So my stress jumps – I think I need perfection from the beginning. I worry about turns of phrase. And with all this, my initial starting inertia increases – I need more to actually get me to write, and when I do the flow is all jammed and it’s slow going.

Recently the freedom in editing  has been the knowledge that I can have just a jumble of words. But through the editing process I can create something good. Remember, I was trying my best to preserve each writer’s turn of phrase, which for me is very unnatural. How much easier would it be if I was preserving my initial turns of speech even if it was a jumble?

Today during my daily writing I ended up writing 10 times more than what I set forth to do. I did this because I realized that the multiple layers are the things that add the real magic, and those are layers I enjoy. This makes the raw material easier to get out there because I know I’m going to polish it up. I can write a jumble of thoughts and feelings and I know that I can form a great finished product from it.

This might all seem obvious, but I feel it’s a real landmark in my mental process and how I approach my writing.

photo by Brenden deBrincat/Flickr

Posted in progress, Writing Improvement, Writing Psychology Tagged , , |

Photos from Canterbury

I’ve been slowly getting organized with my Lightroom workflow. When I was in Brazil it took me weeks to get all my pics sorted and migrated. It involved almost 5 years of photographs – not necessarily good pics, mind you, but ones I need to at least sift through. And now that I finally have an idea on how to do some quality editing, I’ve been working through my back log.

I just got back from a trip through England with a quick stop in Paris. So here are a few pics of Canterbury.

It’s really surreal walking around in a place you studied in high school. And while the cathedral took center stage, the town itself was great to walk around in. The main walking street was filled with the usual tourist traps, but punctuated with older buildings and pubs like the one below.



I’m a bit at a loss on how to describe much of Kent, except in cliches that every travel writer is told in no uncertain terms NOT to ever use – quaint, charming, etc – these just hop to mind with alacrity. Flying into England I looked out the window and clouds parted on rolling green fields which were straight out of the Hobbit, and getting on the ground I kept giggling at how my mind went immediately to old story books I had read as a child.

It’s a pleasant surprise when this happens. Tibet stood out like this – it was exactly how I imagined it would be. If these places were people they would be unflappably nonchalant in their authenticity. I’ve been to regions that try too hard, or have thin veneers that look like the postcards, or juxtapositions – Rio with its graffiti, the Taj Mahal surrounded by the overwhelming poverty of Agra. But here there is something so thoroughly and unshakably….well…British about it all. As a traveler, this fills me with childlike glee. As a writer though, it’s difficult to summon up more nuanced word choices.

But hey, sometimes the cliches are there for a reason.







Posted in On the Job, Photography Improvement, Travel Tagged , , , |

Article Discussion Series: “Paris, Home of Le Burger” by Robert Gottlieb

I recently got back from Paris – out of place things tend to attract me the most in my travels, and Parisians and their apparent love affair with hamburgers and American diners caught my attention. I searched for a story about it, but could only find one – Robert Gottlieb’s November 2012 piece in the New Yorker entitled “Paris, Home of Le Burger”- I was able to view it, but it may be behind a firewall at a later date.

Now here’s a quick question if you are able to read the article: Based on the article descriptions alone, how many places did the author actually go to for sure?

I personally found the article a bit hard to get into – maybe it was the New Yorker style with elevated language, odd jokes I didn’t get, and injected French that I was supposed to know.

BUT none of that really matters – the article’s construction is amazing…and gets better the more you read it. The sheer logistics are difficult – there are many many burger places, you have to cover at least the general types well. But on a limited budget/time – how do you do it?

Gottlieb does this by various clever transitions and oblique descriptions. Let’s get into it:

  1.  ”…who are crowding into the ever-expanding list of burger joints. (it may be lese-majeste to refer to Ralph’s as a “joint”…)
    He mentions Ralph Lauren’s burger restaurant by segueing from the word “joint”  – almost a sarcastic joke transition. He’s pointing out a word play as a joke, and this is the way that leads him to reference one specific restaurant. [Now that I look at it again it's more what I once called a Polysemy Transition - a transition that uses a word that has two meanings or connotations.]
  2. He describes Ralph’s through the web reviews – it’s not something I’ve ever thought to do, but it does cover the restaurant.
  3. “At the other end of the scale is a tiny hole in the wall….called I <3 Burger…..”

    I’ll call this a Sliding Scale Transition.

  4. “New to the competition on St. Germain is the latest branch of Razowski”

    A New-to-the-Mix Transition? God I’m horrible at naming….

  5. “Two of the best-known, long-established burgers are right nearby….I was there a few years ago…”

     Location Transition AND a Backwards-in-time Transition.

  6. “English is spoken. Ditto at pdg, on the rue du Dragon”

    Basically a Description Transition based on similarity.

  7. after talking about the prevalence of initials at the previous restaurant he says “More initials at B.I.A. – Breakfast in America – back in the Fifth”

    Also a Description Transition Based on similarity.

  8. “One theory is that it all started with McDonald’s…”

    I’ll call it an Origin Transition – he starts with a series of questions on how it could have happened, then transitions by saying “one theory is…”

    It doesn’t even have to be researched! This is something that for me would be hard to pin down – how DID it start? The “one theory” covers anything after. Brilliant! I’ll call it the One Theory Out.

He makes many other transitions. But again here’s the question: How many burger places did he actually go to for sure (based on the article alone)?

By my count he describes 9 restaurants and went to 2.

At the Razowski he describes not liking the burger very much. At Coffee Parisien he describes going there a few years back. It’s unclear if he actually went to H.A.N.D.…. – he says it’s hard to get in and the burgers are closer to the American version.

He mentions lines outside of a few places , which is a clever oblique way of describing a place without necessarily going. He describes the line at BIA (“This place always has a line outside, even on a rainy Sunday afternoon). and at MacDonald’s (“When I cruised it, the branch in the Louvre was doing land-office business). The web version of the line description is restaurant reviews. I’ll call these Oblique Descriptors.

Now let’s be fair – I don’t know which ones he went to or not (and I don’t really care). But based on the article, it’s difficult to pin down – there’s quite a bit of smoke and mirrors going on with the language, and this is a valuable thing to learn, especially if you are, say, a writer who doesn’t have the backing of the New Yorker to cover your food bill.

It’s also quite amazing how he managed to fit in 9 restaurant descriptions in a relatively short article – and the transitions and the manner in which he describes them doesn’t make the article seem jam packed with info. Taken apart, I feel this is a very skillful piece of writing that I can learn from.

Posted in Article Discussion Series Tagged , , , , , |

Milestone: Published as a Book Contributor


A while ago…actually, a LONG time ago I got commissioned to contribute entries to ABC-CLIO’s They Do What?: A Cultural Encyclopedia of Weird and Exotic Customs from around the World edited by Javier Galván.  And it’s finally out!

The book has been sent to my parents and though digital copies are on the way I haven’t gotten a chance to see the final product.

This is an interesting departure for me and one I enjoyed. I like getting more in depth into culture and history in a more academic manner, something I don’t necessary do in my normal magazine writing. And it’s the first book I’ve contributed to, so I’m quite eager to get home and paw through the physical copy the next time I visit my parents.

You can purchase or check out more information about the book on the ABC-CLIO website, Barnes and Noble, or on Amazon where there’s also a bit of a preview of the Kindle edition.

Posted in Types of Jobs Tagged , , |

Back from the World Cup

I’m back from my travels. And though World Cup travel is over, the final is yet to take place. I’m rather hoping that Brazil and Argentina face off – my neighborhood has a large population of Argentinians, so that scenario would be especially interesting in my corner of Brazil.

The trip went surprisingly well. I heard so much about how crazy it would be and I was surprised how pretty much all went well. Traffic, crowds – they were all completely fine – even the infamously crowded and dangerous São Paulo was nothing compared to Houston traffic….or China during a national holiday! Even getting up to Christ the Redeemer in Rio took about 20 minutes because we booked tickets online.

There’s a lot I’m still processing from the trip – story ideas, pictures, thoughts…but right now I’m just generally decompressing. As I said to a friend on Skype, it’s my “couch day” – so I’ll just post a few iPhone pics from the trip.


San Telmo, Buenos Aires

Paca da Liberdade, Curitiba

Feijao, Farofa, and Brazilian BBQ at a random gas stop on the way to Paraty


The waters off Ilha Grande

Ilha Grande

Old Town, Paraty

Concepcao de Jacare

View of Sugarloaf Mountain from Christ the Redeemer


Check out more photos on my Instagram account.

Posted in Travel Tagged , , , |

A Green and Yellow Tee – 2014 World Cup Tour

Last week walking around my neighborhood was disappointing.

Things were quiet in Canasvieiras (my neighborhood in Florianopolis in Southern Brazil) – and that’s expected – it’s winter here, and the roads are filled with guesthouses and long term rentals for Uruguayans and Argentinians who vacation here in the summer. But what was disappointing was the lack of a buzz – a vibrancy expected of the World Cup being held in this country of all countries.

There are reasons for this. Talking to Brazilians, they tell me of the frustration that the people have, an anger caused by government corruption, billions spent on stadiums, some of which, like the newly built Arena Amazonia in Manaus, will probably never really be used again.

As a great Reddit thread on the subject mentioned, it’s not that there isn’t some good coming out of it. Badly needed infrastructure issues, ignored for many years in some of the host cities are being taken care of (though there are some hilarious exceptions). Unfortunately at times this has been done without regard for the social impact – stories abound of preemptive police raids in favelas and the forcible relocation of citizens.

The opening game started on Thursday, and as I looked out through my balcony, I saw two schoolchildren, dressed in uniforms, walking with their father along my deserted street, waving Brazilian flags.

Something was finally happening.

I’m not much of a soccer fan and though I tend to zone out while seeing matches, I understand some of the inner tension involved. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver recently did a comedic, but well worded rant about this. As a soccer fan himself, John Oliver explains his own struggle with the issues – on one hand FIFA and the Brazilian government have done some shady things. On the other hand…It’s the World Cup!

What hooks me is the feeling of coming together, what Emile Durkheim called collective effervescence –  an amplifying emotional unification through a shared experience. And effervescence is the right word. It’s a bubbling vibrancy that swells around you irrespective of language or national ties…or in my case, a lack of soccer knowledge.

Later on Thursday, the flags became more apparent. A few honks from cars. A few more flags. Could that be a vuvuzela? As I walked to my local watering hole rows of stores were closing. One barber shop had given up all pretense of keeping to business hours; they were drinking beers and barbecuing out in the street. The only shops that seemed open were the ones selling Brazilian soccer t-shirts – the green and yellow that everyone was wearing.

The nervousness implicit is that Brazil wouldn’t get excited. That’s when you know that All is Not Right – when a passionate country is blank faced, robbed of joy while hosting what they love most. It’s not that the issues aren’t valid – its the fear that those issues, the actions of the government and of FIFA, might have broken a people’s spirit in a fundamental way. That is a thing of sorrow.

But at Brazil’s first goal by Namar fireworks thundered in the street and the suddenly crowded bar screamed in delight. And relief set in. Because there was a tension, even in a soccer heathen like myself, that Brazil might not get excited. And “Brazilians,” according to Anthony Bourdain in his newest Salvadore da Bahia episode of Parts Unknown “get excited about everything!”

Yes there are issues. But it’s also soccer in Brazil.

I’m still confused about the offsides rule. I don’t quite get how soccer players can dramatically fall to the ground clutching the wrong body part from a brush from an opponent. But on Thursday it felt like the country – or at least the part of the country in my small neighborhood – finally let out the part of themselves that still cleaves to delight. And there – amongst locals and a few expats that I picked out –  we were a part of that moment together.

Will it continue? I think it will.

I’m heading to Buenos Aires tomorrow, then Iguazu Falls, Curitiba, São Paulo, Paraty, Ilha Grande, and Rio. In packing I always wonder about the trip – this one will most likely be crazy, crowded, and loud, and the rumors of the country being unprepared do worry me a bit. But it also just might be as inclusive and friendly as I imagine, a party like only Brazilians know how to throw.

I don’t know how it will go – but I have one last addition to my packing. Like a lot of people in my neighborhood on Thursday, I too picked up a green and yellow shirt…

Brazilian flag photo by Eduardo Amorim

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized Tagged , |

Milestone: Published in Conde Nast Traveller Middle East

Not only is this a milestone because it’s the Conde Nast Traveller brand, but it’s also my first publication in a new region – the Middle East. I was originally tasked with doing a caption for a photo, but it turned out they used one of my pics. So it’s also my first full spread photograph used in a magazine. It was a pleasure working with them and I definitely hope to work with them in the future!

Posted in Clients, progress, Published Tagged , , , |

Photo Sourcing


Photo sourcing, photo curating…call it what you will, but I’ve just started doing this for the first time for a series of articles online. I’ve always offered to do this -but usually I thought it would involve just asking tourism bureaus or restaurants, etc and hoping they would get back to me in time with their professional photographs.

I also thought it would involve contacting photographers. The previous times I’ve done this have been catastrophic. In one case the photographer wanted to discuss payment and then just slacked off in replying. This was frustrating because I was offering him publication in an international magazine, when up until then he’d only been published locally. Another time I contacted and put the editor in touch with 4 different photographers. Unfortunately they needed the photography within the next two days, and the one photographer they wanted to go with didn’t check his email.

Photo sourcing pictures online is an avenue I just never thought of. What I do is search through photography databases like Flickr and make sure the pics are shared for public and commercial purposes.   And some of the pics are truly fantastic – it’s a real pleasure to do and I find myself really enjoying it.

In one case I couldn’t find any good photographs so I used my own, back linking to this website.

“Is this ….legal? Moral? Right?” I kept asking.

It just felt a bit….incestuous. But I write articles all the time and have links back to my website. I must not be used to this new world that’s opening up.

And it gets even more interesting. There are plenty of Facebook shared listicles that are simply a list of pics. So the author comes up with an idea….say – Coolest Rivers in the World…and then just….takes pictures from other sources and captions them.

This makes sense – of course a picture is more visceral and shareable than even a listicle. And some of these websites generate immense amounts of traffic – I saw one that had over 100 MILLION clicks a month. All from curated and sourced content. Of course the key is the timing and the clickability of the list. But it’s crazy that there’s no unique content on these – it’s all in the gathering.

I’m still trying to figure out what this could mean. How about working for a place that just does curated content? Email sent, awaiting the reply and rates. What about incorporating this in pitching? A lot of Asian magazines have rejected pitches from me because I don’t have the pics. But what if I just curated it – including links to pictures as a part of my link? That would certainly open up stories where I’ve gone to the place, but didn’t have good pics. Of course this would only work for magazines that accept curated content – but I know of many outlets that do this. And what does this mean for my own photography? I know this grants a lot of photographers great exposure – should I open up my own pics for use?

I’m still mulling it all over, but one thing is certain – photo sourcing adds a whole new dynamic to this travel writing game…

Posted in Types of Jobs Tagged , , |

Writing Travel #1 – A Conversation on Travel Writing Workflow

I’ve been having great conversations recently – in person and online with colleagues about the nitty gritty of travel writing. So I just decided to try recording them. Here’s the first in what will hopefully be a series of conversations about the industry – this one is with Lydia Schrandt and it’s (mostly) about workflow… Though there are some rather long tangents. Enjoy!

Posted in Productivity and Workflow Tagged , , |

Blog Update: Sidebar

I recently noticed that links in my blog side bar (Interviews, Experimental, Articles, Book Reviews, & Terms) had dead links from when I migrated everything to the new layout. I just went through and updated them.

Articles that I’ve analyzed and my experimental terms are probably the best thing I’ve got when it comes to concrete writing development. Those started in an attempt to ratchet up my skills – it’s one thing to know that an article you read is good, it is an entirely different thing to know exactly why, and then do it yourself.

I’ve personally felt I’ve improved by writing those particular posts, so check them out, and let me know what you think.

Posted in Blog Maintenence Tagged |