Kill all the editors. Wait … stop … I didn’t really mean that …

Last week, I gave a workshop called “Turning True Life Stories Into Support” at an annual conference for people who provide social services to runaway and homeless teens. Three hours before my session, a young man named Billy give the keynote speech at lunch.

Billy ran away from a family that couldn’t, wouldn’t accept him for who he was: a gay young man who liked glee club, who just wanted someone to listen to him without criticizing the way he talked,who  just wanted to walk and laugh and be without feeling slighted or judged by his family and peers. Luckily, he wound up at the doorsteps of several organizations that helped put him on the road to success. Today Billy is in a program that helps older teens and young adults who would otherwise be homeless learn to live on their own.

Let’s just say Billy brought many people in the audience to tears.

I edit other people’s writing for a living, and I’m used to dissecting how words go together and figuring out how to arrange them in the most effective sequence. The thing is, Billy’s speech wasn’t polished and neither was Billy. He kept losing his place and saying, “Sorry, sorry,” then repeating a line before getting back on track. He kept stopping because he was too nervous or because he was on the verge of tears. Yet he had an enthralled audience. He made me cry.

So kill all the editors, because Billy’s rawness–his unedited, uncensored voice–lent his story power.

But no, don’t kill them. Just hit them with a stun gun occasionally. Billy’s speech, in fact, illustrated all the principles I had planned to talk about in my workshop. His story had a beginning, middle, and end. It had conflict and resolution. It included a hook: Here’s what runaway and homeless teens need. And it included a call to action for everyone in the room: Maybe if you hear this, you’ll go back and serve the young people in your programs even better than before.

November is National Runaway Prevention Month. If you’d like to support an organization that works with homeless youth, try:

The National Runaway Switchboard

Larkin Street Youth Services

Any of the runaway and homeless youth programs listed on this map.


2 thoughts on “Kill all the editors. Wait … stop … I didn’t really mean that …

  1. Kathleen

    How about – ply all the editors with a nice hot chocolate so they’re in a chocolate coma when they come across your copy? As a sometime editor myself, I will certainly accept editorial hot chocolate.

    Seriously, though, the question of how much to change is a good one. I spoke to a writer this weekend whose book now uses the word “ultra-luxe” – as she said, what does that even mean?!? It’s hard to let go of our words and let the editor do her job – and it’s just as hard (and more important) to stand up for our voice when it needs to stay as-is. Thanks for sharing this story. I’m inspired!


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