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Get Your Own Bob
by Tanya J. Tyler

My friend Bob is my writing lucky charm.

I regularly ask Bob to edit articles or stories I plan to submit to various venues. And every article or story he has edited for me has been accepted — every single one. So far that includes two Chicken Soup stories, a story for an anthology called "My Teacher is My Hero," and an op-ed piece that ran in my denomination’s national magazine.

Bob and I worked together in the promotions department of our local newspaper. He is a very good writer in his own right and has also been published, so I know he knows the ins and outs of the business.

I rely on Bob to bring a fresh pair of eyes to the things I’ve written. And that’s why every writer needs a Bob of their own. Fresh eyes on a story are essential. From his detached perspective, Bob points out errors I may have overlooked. You know how it is: Your mind is hard wired to skip over mistakes in a manuscript you’ve been working on for a while — you literally don’t see them. Someone else reading your work for the first time will often find misspellings and awkward phrasings blinking at them like a ferocious stoplight. You’ll be glad they’ve been caught. Bob catches them for me.

Often writers get totally enamored of their story or article and might dig in their heels and insist on keeping in something that’s holding the piece back. An impartial but firm and fair editor like Bob is important to give your story some sparkle it might lack and to do some fine-tuning or tweaking. Because he’s not as wedded to my story as I am, Bob can pick up on things that don’t add to it and offer alternatives that will improve it. I value Bob’s insights and generally follow his suggestions about what to leave in and what to take out.

It’s also good to have someone who focuses on another writing genre or whose style contrasts yours edit or critique your work. Bob and I are very different writer-wise. I’m usually straightforward and journalistic: get in the facts, tell a relevant and appealing story, maybe add something offbeat now and then. Bob can’t resist tossing in a quirky, humorous sentence of some sort in everything he writes, even his serious work. He is most talented at coming up with punchy endings, which is my weakest writing point. Sometimes I don’t start writing something until I know how I’m going to end it. Bob has a knack for crafting a finish that ties everything together neatly.

So what’s in it for Bob? Whenever something he’s looked over for me sells and I get my check, I treat Bob to lunch. Granted, he will not survive on just the lunches I pay for because at this point the checks are few and far between. But our lunch meetings are times for us to regroup and talk about our writing and inspire and encourage one another. That’s another reason it’s good to have a Bob of your own — to keep you plugging away in spite of rejection, dejection, and writer’s block.

Of course, there’s no guarantee the person you choose will be as lucky for you as Bob is for me. But anyone who tightens and strengthens and helps you improve your writing is worth a salad now and again.

I am about to take the plunge with Bob. It’s time to move past the articles and onto bigger and better things. I have a novel manuscript I want him to read. I don’t dare send it off without letting him read it first. Telling him about his upcoming assignment at our latest lunch, I said, “It’s my kid’s story, Bob — not my cheap trashy romance novel. I can’t let you read my romance novel. We’d both be embarrassed.”

But Bob just smiled over his salad as I rationalized. He knows, and I know, too: If I want that romance novel published, he had better read it. After all, that’s why Bob is on the job.

(Now see how lame that ending is? Bob would have come up with something much, much better. But I wanted to surprise him with this article about how valuable his help is to me. I couldn’t have him edit an article about himself, could I? Will it sell? Well, if you’re reading this, I guess it did.)

© Copyright 2008, Tanya J. Tyler

Tanya J. Tyler is a writer and editor in the Advertising Creative Services department of the Herald-Leader newspaper in Lexington, KY (www.kentucky.com). She has written articles for a number of national magazines and has essays in Chicken Soup for the Single Parent's Soul and Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul.

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