Editing the Spoken Word

Anyone who’s ever heard me talk about my work as a writer knows I’m my most creative about avoiding the blank page. For example, I’ve procrastinated starting this post for more days than I care to admit. Opening my laptop to an empty document makes me sweat. But, faced with a draft of any kind (the “shitty first one” as Anne Lamott calls them, or a fourth, fifth, or tenth one), I’m as ready to leap as my dog, Booker, when we set out for a walk. It’s the revising, re-revising, and editing that send me to my desk with glee.

A few weeks ago (I told you I’ve been procrastinating), I discovered the beauty of editing spoken words, too. That’s when I received a link to an interview I’d done with Mark Helpsmeet of Northern Spirit Radio.

Northern Spirit Radio (NSR) was founded by Mark in 2005 with the support of the Eau Claire Quakers on WHYS Radio, Eau Claire Wisconsin’s then-newly-licensed, low-power FM station. The non-profit station began syndicating its programs in 2007 with a few other stations, including KLOI-LP here on Lopez Island (I blogged about it here). In 2008, Northern Spirit Radio began offering its programs to download through the Pacifica AudioPort. Today, Northern Spirit Radio programs air on more than forty stations.

According to the NSR website, its programs promote “world healing by broadcasting inspirational and educational voices of peace and social justice using the language of personal story, music, and spirituality.” Spirit In Action, the segment I was interviewed for, is an hour of interviews with those people involved in peace, justice and “good works,” interspersed with relevant music. 

During our chat about Writer in a Life Vest, though, I heard myself pause frequently and felt as though I struggled to find just the right words in response to Mark’s questions. At the end of our session, I worried I hadn’t expressed myself well and wondered how it would come across. 

I needn’t have fretted, though, because Mark is skillful at editing spoken words. Maybe he enjoys the revision process as much as I do and embraces the challenge of cutting through (or out) the hesitations and ramblings to focus on the true essence of what’s spoken. 

I know editing a recorded interview requires different mechanical skills than the cutting, pasting, and rearranging I do on the page. And while I often have to meet a specific word count for publication, Mark’s task requires condensing the material he records over the course of a couple hours into an hour-long format. While “killing my darlings” (a term used to describe the pain of deleting beloved words and paragraphs) can be excruciating, I almost always find that trimming makes the remaining words more powerful, interesting, and lively. I appreciate Mark’s honing skill, too.

I hope you’ll listen to my latest interview on Northern Spirit Radio. Mark and I both welcome comments posted on the interview page, so please let us know what you think. If you like Writer in a Life Vest (available wherever books are sold), I’d appreciate a brief review on AmazonGoodreads, or anywhere you like to post about books. And if you know podcasters who might want to talk about my essays from the Salish Sea, please send me their contact information.

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