Should You Edit Your Manuscript in Full or in Parts?

There’s no denying that professional editing is expensive. The final cost of editing will vary depending on the type of editing (developmental, line, or content), the amount of fact checking and formatting required (citations, quoted material, chapter titles, section and subsection headings, sidebars, etc.), and the overall mechanical cleanliness of the manuscript (punctuation, grammar, syntax, and spelling).

For this reason, authors have asked me to edit their manuscript in parts. For example, the introduction and chapters 1 and 2 now, then chapters 3 through 5 a few months later, and so on. This sounds logical from the cost perspective, but in reality it’s often not less expensive in the long run. Here’s why I prefer to edit a manuscript in full rather than in parts:

  1. I’m more likely to catch discrepancies in the plot, inconsistencies in intricate details, redundancies and verbatim text, any gaps in the narrative, and missing information. For example, the fact that the protagonist Amelia in chapter 1 was 22 in 1936 but in chapter 7 is 32 in 1938 might slip through the cracks if I edit chapter 1 in February and chapter 7 eight months later in October. Even with good notes in my style sheet, I will still need to take time to dig back into the manuscript to make sure the details, and the math, are correct and consistent throughout the text.
  2. I’m more likely to recall when a character or a source was first introduced to the reader. When characters or sources are referred to in a manuscript shortly after they have been first introduced to the reader, it’s not necessary to reintroduce them again. For example, the reader doesn’t need to be reminded of Amelia’s most notable characteristic, her glistening emerald-green eyes (unless doing so is pertinent to the plot). And in nonfiction, sources don’t need to be reintroduced in their entirety, including the author’s name and subtitle; using only the main title will suffice. Also, it’s important that the first introduction of a character or source contains the pertinent information the reader needs to follow the narrative. When editing the full manuscript, I know immediately if this information has been provided or not and at the appropriate juncture. This alleviates my needing to take the time to go back into the manuscript to find the first introduction, as would likely be required if editing the manuscript in parts.
  3. I can ensure that the narrative flows throughout the text from beginning to end. Editing a manuscript in parts can result in a jilted, disjointed narrative rather than a smooth, cohesive one.

My typical turnaround time for editing a full manuscript is two to three weeks. That means I’m reading the entire manuscript, from beginning to end, in a very short period of time. In doing so, any discrepancies, inconsistencies, redundancies, verbatim text, narrative gaps, and missing information immediately leap out at me. This is very difficult to achieve when editing a manuscript in parts—especially after several months have passed.

As I alluded to earlier, editing a manuscript in parts can also be more expensive in the long run. On one occasion I did edit a manuscript in parts at the author’s insistence but only with the author’s full understanding of the potential risks. This resulted in an extremely complicated, drawn-out process, as it was very difficult to keep track of what parts I had edited, re-edited, or never edited because the author was still revising as well. The time it took to make this determination along with the back-and-forth communication with the author, in addition to the actual editing, resulted in a much higher price tag for the author than if I had edited the manuscript in full. The author had no difficulty with the final cost, but other authors may have experienced serious sticker shock.

Again, I don’t advise having your manuscript edited in parts. However, I do understand the need to keep your eye on the bottom line and to remain within your budget. Just be sure to keep the risks in mind, and the potential increase in cost, should you choose this option.


My First Manuscript

Look what my mom found while going through some boxes! She sent this to me with “Is this your first manuscript?” written on a light-pink Post-it note. Just holding these now-yellowed pages in my hands and seeing my loopy, eleven-year-old scrawl brings a smile to my face every time.

I must say, with my editor’s eagle eye I see only a few issues with grammar and punctuation, but several glaring ones with point of view. There’s a lot of head-hopping going on in these three pages. Still, not bad for a first attempt in sixth grade. But what I want to know is, What were those little mischief-makers doing with matches and stink bombs, in school no less, and where did they get them?? Rule #1: Leave NO unanswered questions in the reader’s mind.

I agree with my friend Vonnie’s critique that I could have extended this story. Pierre and Corky were a couple of naughty little pups, so there was plenty of literary fodder with all their shenanigans!

Here’s some backstory about the source of my inspiration. Pierre was my mom’s white toy poodle, who she adored. Correction: worshipped. But not me. Pierre was high-strung, snobbish, cranky, snappy, and spoiled rotten. Mom literally cooked whole chickens and, on special occasions, liver for him alone and dressed him in a black-and-white striped sweater decades before it was fashionable to do so. And at Christmas, she dressed him in a red flannel Santa jacket with a black belt and matching pointy red hat with, get this, a white beard. Ugh. I apparently turned my loathing (and yes, jealousy) into art, giving ol’ Pierre his comeuppance with a wooden paddle to his curly white backside. “The pen is mightier than the sword” (Edward Bulwer-Lytton, English author, 1839). Ah, how true. Oh, how sweet. And I got an A- to boot!

Once a writer, always a writer. When did you pen your first story or manuscript?

Focus to the Finish

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. – Lao Tzu

A man recently wrote me, asking, “How does one begin to write a book?” My response: “One word at a time.”

But to do that one thing is key: focus.

I’m by nature a big-picture person, so I often become overwhelmed by the enormity of my vision. For example, I have had two memoirs in progress for the past several years, working only on them in fits and starts. As a result, neither one was even near completion, leaving me frustrated and discouraged. Then a webinar showed up in my inbox—twice—where I learned about the 7-Day Writing Challenge, created and offered by Shelley Hitz of, from March 26 through April 2. Since it showed up twice, I sensed that God was telling me that this was what I needed to develop a consistent daily writing habit—something I’ve been wanting to do for the past several months. And that it did. But it did even more than that. It also provided me with what I didn’t know I was lacking: focus.

This 7-Day Writing Challenge helped me to focus on only one of my memoirs as well as provided me with two of the best tools to not only focus on my writing itself but also to establish a daily writing habit: 1) commit to writing 15 to 30 minutes each day, and 2) set a timer at each session.

During the challenge, I wrote consistently every day, 30 minutes for 6 of those days and one hour for one of them. At each session, the time flew and the words flowed. At the end of the challenge, I had written 5,133 words for my memoir, the equivalent to one to one and a half chapters. And since the challenge has ended, I’ve written another 3,453 words. That’s a total of 8,586 words for my memoir—the bulk of which has been swimming around in my head, begging to be written for years—and I’m now almost to the finish line in only two and a half weeks! See what focus can do?

I have always set a timer to edit in one-hour increments. This allows me to focus on my task without the distraction of keeping track of the time. When my alarm goes off, I stop editing and move away from the computer and do something completely unrelated. This gives my mind, eyes, and body a much-needed break from the intensity of mentally processing and scrutinizing everything I’m reading while sitting in one spot, staring at the computer screen. Why it never occurred to me to set a timer for my writing time, I don’t know. But it works like a charm for editing and so it does for writing. And now I can do both! Before, I found it very difficult, if not impossible, to write after editing all day since editing is a left-brained activity and writing is a right-brained one. So my writing was shoved to the back seat, which did not make my right-brained writer self happy or get either of my memoirs written. Through this 7-Day Writing Challenge, however, I discovered that setting my timer for the amount of time I’ve committed to writing that day helps me make the hemisphere switch from left to right with ease. I don’t know how, but it does. Now I can edit and nurture my own writing on the same day! Yay! I can work and play!

No matter how busy my day may be, sitting down and writing for only 15 to 30 minutes is definitely doable. And I promise it is for you too. Just give it a try, and let me know what you find out. I think you’ll be as amazed as I am, and very pleased with your results.

So “How does one begin to write a book?” Sit down with pen, pencil, paper, or computer, set your timer for 15 to 30 minutes (more if you choose), and write—one word at a time.







“You Are a Writer (So Start ACTING Like One)”

When I sat down to write this post, my first since last November, I experienced a discernible visceral sense of rightness, of standing on terra firma. Finally. Again.

Since last October, I have been ensconced within liminal space, the painful, terrifying, confusing, darkened hallway (that often resembles a labyrinth) between the ending of one chapter of life and the beginning of the next. My empty nest hit me harder than I had anticipated; no longer knowing who I was anymore, I plummeted through the floorboards. Finally, this past month, miniscule shafts of light began seeping through the cracks, giving me a glimpse of myself apart from my role as Mom. But a couple of days ago, a full ray of light streamed in, stunning me with its brilliance, clarity, and simplicity.

I was searching in my Kindle for Jeff Goins’s The In-Between: Embracing the Tension between Now and the Next Big Thing. When it popped up, I saw farther down the page three more titles, also by Jeff Goins. The last one hit so hard it made my head swim: You Are a Writer (So Start ACTING Like One). I actually felt a jolt course throughout my body, a definite cosmic kick in the pants.

“I am a writer,” I said out loud to myself, almost in wonder. How did I forget that? When did I forget that? I have been a writer ever since I learned how to write in the first grade. (See post titled, “Why I Do What I Do.”) Editing comes naturally to me, and I enjoy it, but I feel most like my true self when I’m writing. In fact, I became an editor because I deeply identify and empathize with writers and the writing life and want to support both. (See post titled, “The Encouraging Editor.”)

These past ten months have been the long, arduous reconnection with this vital part of who I am that got buried beneath parenting and the practicalities and demands of life. When I was a child, there were two things I knew I was destined for: motherhood and writing. I’ve still not entirely emerged from the in-between place; I’m still grieving the fact that my babies are no longer babies, and I terribly miss them and who I knew myself to be in relation to them and in their lives. But I am making headway. I have new babies to birth and nurture: those on the page. And what better way to start than to write a post about writing to you, my beloved fellow writers?

My story is not unique. Life tends to upend and sidetrack us all. You, too, are a writer. So if you’re not currently acting like one, ask yourself, “What is standing in my way?”

You may just find yourself.

Blogging: To Thine Own Self Be True

Happy 2017 to you all!

For my first post in this new year, I want to introduce another form of publishing that is often overlooked: blogging. For those of you who have been considering starting a blog yet have been too intimidated to try, the experience of Karin Schmidt, my good friend and guest post contributor this month and prolific blogger at A Million Little Memoirs: Life Journey Recalled Through Memoir, will inspire and motivate you, and her advice will give you confidence. Blogging is typically viewed as a means to build your platform and writing résumé. But as you will see from Karin’s story, blogging offers many more joys and opportunities.


The first thing I did when thinking about blogging was watch the movie Julie and Julia. It’s the true story of how writer Julie Powell blogged while cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The result was a book deal (2005), a movie deal (2009), and being launched as a writer. My goals were less grand, but her experiences helped me in some surprising ways to find my own path.

In the movie, Julie let the whole experience unravel her life. She worried about who was reading her and if she was disappointing her readers. She had self-described meltdowns that wreaked havoc on her life, her work, and her marriage. This insanity was something I knew I wanted no part of.

I was sure of only one thing. If I was going to do this, it had to be for me. I wanted my work out there and thought this might give me a sense of accomplishment. If I were read, that would be icing on the cake. And if I received comments, that would be the sprinkles. Writing friends reminded me that once a piece is on a blog it is considered published. I decided I could live with that.

Lastly, I found help. I found someone with computer skills and her own blog. We met once a month, and she constructed my site. In between sessions, I began to post my writing and became more comfortable with the program. It was money well spent.

There are several different programs for designing and maintaining a blog with comparable options for layout and easy navigation. The programs keep statistics to check such things as number of visitors and an online support network for questions. I chose WordPress because I liked their layout and choices.

But I don’t think of what I do as blogging. To me, blogging is short, off-the-top-of-your-head musings. And that’s much different from what I do. I consider my site a website. My pieces are essays, personal essays and memoir essays. Each piece is a complete story. I pay no attention to word count; I’m just interested in telling the story.

I have over a dozen pages on my website so my stories can be posted into the appropriate category. I have a page for family stories, another for retirement essays, as well as for work, girlfriend, health, poetry, and even a page about writing. I’ve been doing this for two and a half years and have 135 pieces posted. For any piece that was previously published elsewhere, I’ve included the date and place of publication at the beginning of the post. This process has me writing nearly every day and always working on something.

I was curious about Julie Powell’s life after her blog, and her follow-up story has an interesting lesson for all writers. Julia Child’s editor says that Julia didn’t appreciate the expletives and other personal matters Powell included on the blog. Child would not endorse the book or meet her, saying Powell was doing this as a joke and seemed “flimsy.”

Julie Powell is now famous enough to be on Wikipedia. But perhaps she’s more importantly an example of why it’s imperative to know yourself and your goals before putting your material on the Internet in whatever form you choose. I’m energized and motivated to write all my stories. Now I have a place to put them. I keep doing it because it fits my writing goals. But I’m also careful of the impression I’m making.



Writing Contests

For my final post in 2016, I’m honored, once again, to have Ed Abell, author of the award-winning My Father’s Keep, to guest post. Writing contests are a commendable avenue for authors to build their platform and their writing résumé, and Ed’s experience shows how gratifying they can be after all those years of toil and tears.


I chose to self-publish because I wanted to be on Amazon and Kindle. That’s the marketplace. These days, even if a publisher did pick my book, I’d still have to show them a marketing plan and self-promote the book. The print-on-demand strategy worked for me.

The bad rap on self-publishing is that anyone can do it and so much of it is crap. So the question becomes, how do you differentiate yourself in that arena? Five-star reviews on Amazon help, but those are mostly friends (bless their hearts). Finishing well in writing contests meant validation from peers and recognition beyond my circle of friends and family. That’s, of course, if I won anything at all.

Between ads in Writer’s Digest, surfing the Internet, and Diana Schramer flagging opportunities for me, I chose fourteen different contests to enter. Each one had different costs and categories. They encompassed regional, national, and international. My book is a creative nonfiction memoir. It was entered as nonfiction, memoir, relationships, and sometimes the contest categorized it themselves. One was even mountain-specific because my story is told during a trek to Mount Everest Base Camp. (Just being included in the twenty-two books under consideration for the Boardman Tasker Prize was a victory.)

All had different rules for application and timing. Some wanted several printed books, some a gifted e-book, and some a PDF file. I made a chart to follow all the instructions and, most importantly, the timing of the contest results.

I had no idea about my chances. What I did know is the process of writing had taken four years and thirty-eight rewrites. I had used beta readers (people who didn’t know me to read the book and comment) and Diana Schramer as my professional editor—the last being so very important in producing a quality product amongst the self-publishing mob.

Months later I’m at our cabin. No Internet and undependable 3G. My phone beeps; an e-mail had arrived through the pine trees:

“Congratulations, Mr. Abell. The Paris International Book Festival is happy to inform you that you have received an Honorable Mention in the General Non-fiction category for your book ‘My Father’s Keep.’”

Fourth in the world in that broad category still busts by buttons. In all, I’d win two international and two national awards for both the paperback and the e-book. One of the gold medallions proudly decorates my book cover.

Did my sales skyrocket? No. But my mission all along was to write a good book, now an award-winning book.

I have included a review from a losing effort. I did not place in this contest. Please note the scores and comments about the editing. Good luck to all.

Judge, 22nd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding.”

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5

Production Quality and Cover Design: 4

Plot and Story Appeal: 4

Character Appeal and Development: 0 (Non Fiction)

Voice and Writing Style: 4

Judge’s Commentary:

‘My Father’s Keep’ is beautifully written, well structured, and well edited, a professional and worthy book on every level.

The author tells his story without delving into pathos or cliché and the framework of the trip through the Himalaya works beautifully with the subject matter. The fact that, in the end, he got his dad’s ashes to the summit of Everest really hits it home. And it’s a great testament to the book that the author realizes and portrays what a good conclusion this was for him without any hand wringing about not making it to the summit himself. A lot of writers would have fallen into that trap.

The author weaves in scenes from his boyhood, and it works well as he makes his journey. Despite his family’s challenges and the damage it did, many of those scenes are fond memories and as the book progresses, have much more of an impact in the context of the rest of the material. Both the short scene where the author climbs the cliff near Lake Michigan and the one where his dad drives him back to college after his girlfriend have broken up with him hit the reader in the heart. The author’s skill at selling a scene without overwriting it really works here.

The cover, font and interior structure are all professionally done. The fine and professional editing of the book are also a big plus and a rare find in self-published work.

Overall, it is a beautifully done, professional book that would be at home on any bookstore shelf.






Freedom of Speech: Right, Responsibility, and Respect

This month, on November 8, the most contentious political campaign, certainly in my lifetime, came to an end. However, the rhetoric of hate incited during the campaign remains, and has even increased, in its aftermath, and violence is not only a threat but also now a frightening reality. Also frightening is the threat to oppress and imprison those who exercise their constitutional right to freedom of speech and the press as declared in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

That being said, with this freedom comes responsibility. While we have the right to express ourselves in speech (and writing), we do not have the right to threaten the lives or well-being or actually attack those who disagree with us or whom we deem as different, bad, or wrong. Along with responsibility, freedom of speech demands respect—respect for the viewpoint, religion, and lifestyle of others, and their right to express them.

This also includes respecting the creative works of others. Freedom of speech does not give us the right to use another’s written words for our own ends without the originator’s (or in some cases the publisher’s) permission to do so. Not obtaining this permission can result in legal action due to copyright infringement. As a legal studies major, I am hypervigilant with regard to this issue, often leaving the comment “Please obtain the necessary permission to reprint, if necessary” in the margins several times throughout the manuscripts of my clients. Authors typically mean no ill will; they simply are not aware of the necessity of receiving the proper permissions or of the potential legal consequences for failing to do so. One of my responsibilities as a copy editor is to bring this vital issue to authors’ attention and hopefully spare them a world of legal woe.

Authors often ask me what requires permission, what doesn’t, and where to go from there. I have found the following excellent sources:

  1. Author’s Permission Guidelines from The University of Chicago Press
  2. “Is It Fair Use? 7 Questions to Ask Before Using Copyrighted Material”
  3. “Requesting Permissions + Sample Permissions Letter”

Freedom of speech is our constitutional right, and threats of the oppression of this right and of imprisonment for exercising it makes my blood run cold. At the same time, we must remember that freedom is not free; along with the right to freedom of speech, we must do so responsibly and with respect. Freedom is only freedom if it applies to all.

Don’t Bypass the Copy Editor Revisited

In March 2011, I wrote a post about the necessity and wisdom of an author hiring a copy editor whether he or she chooses to self-publish or go the traditional route. Now almost six years later, I still stand behind my reasons for doing so, and with more vehemence, as the publishing landscape becomes more populated and competitive with each passing day. Yet I’m constantly struck by the following reasons authors often give for their not needing to hire a copy editor for their work:

  1. I have an English degree. (Implication: I know how to write.)
  2. I’m a teacher. (Implication: I know how to write.)
  3. I’m an editor/proofreader. (Implication: I know how to write and edit.)

Let me go on record. I, too, know how to write as well as edit, but if and when I write a book, I will definitely have another editor copyedit it. Why? Two reasons: 1) I am not perfect, so there will be errors, and 2) I won’t be objective about my work. Sure, I will know what I meant to say and in what tone, but did I adequately do so? Even the most eagle-eyed of us have a blind spot when it comes to our work. We’re simply too close to it and often too attached to see it clearly and objectively.

Earlier this month, I attended the fall conference of the Wisconsin Writers Association of which renowned, prolific author Jerry Apps was the keynote speaker. One of the many nuggets of wisdom he shared was “You cannot edit your own work,” and listed the same reasons I have. Having written over 35 books and 800 articles, Mr. Apps certainly is an authority on this subject. And his notable humility is an example for us all to emulate.

It is humbling to be on the receiving end of a good copy editor’s scrutiny and analysis. (“Good” defined as knowledgeable, accurate, and experienced in his or her craft as well as open to learning and correction.) And a good copy editor is no stranger to being on the receiving end of said scrutiny and analysis. I have had this experience myself, and although it pained me, I was deeply grateful for the second (and third) pair of eyes to help trim and polish my work—and for the reminder that no matter how skilled I am at my craft (writing and editing), I need the expertise and objectivity of my fellow copy editors and proofreaders. And so does each and every author.

Remember, a good copy editor is your friend. He or she is your publishing partner, hired to polish your manuscript so it shines like a diamond when it is presented to the world. And that, by the way, reflects very well on you. So I reiterate: don’t bypass the copy editor on your way to the press!


Critique Groups

This month’s guest post is by Ed Abell, author of the award-winning My Father’s Keep, a deeply moving memoir of forgiveness, promise-keeping, and the power of love and grace over addiction and its deep effect on others. In this post, Ed shares his experience while he was in the process of writing his book and conveys well the importance of critique groups and their many benefits. To learn more about Ed’s journey and to purchase his book, which I had the honor to edit, please visit him at


Just the words “critique group” strike terror in most folks. Someone else will judge my work, in front of EVERYONE. They will all be better than me. Do I even belong in the same room as those other writers?

Yes. I know from experience. I had been an industrial designer. I drew pictures for a living. I’d never written anything in my life, but I found myself with a compelling story to tell. I had a book in me. A comprehensive writing class led to honing my skills in a critique group.

To learn to swim, you must enter the water. To write well, you must first find your voice. Where in this wonderful world do you look for that? Simple, you start banging on the keys or scribbling on the pad, writing what you think you should. You read it to the group and get reactions. Of course I sucked for starters, but I’d been a professional designer sitting in front of clients. Criticism wasn’t personal. Additionally, I had this wonderful chance to experiment and I had a very passionate story to tell.

I was writing a memoir so I read other memoirs that I felt had voice. It wasn’t my voice, and it’s not something you can copy, but I began to see what works. The best of them always seemed to be rendered without wasting a word.

My group averaged eight people a session. I learned straightaway that I could depend on good feedback from the group leader and several others. Many members were there to show off or simply read the same things over and over again. Fair enough. I was learning, and I knew who was there to help me.

We only brought 1,500 to 2,000 words with us to each session. Nobody knew the whole story, not even me at the time. That wasn’t the purpose of the critique. We all brought copies for the entire group. Each individual would pass his or her copies around and read it to the group. Then he or she sat in dreadful silence for ten minutes as each member wrote comments on the copies. The group leader would choose two or three people to comment, saving her own opinion for last. The author’s job was to sit and listen, without debating or defending him- or herself. All the marked-up copies was then returned to the author. I would read all the comments on my copies when I got home. Punctuation was generally ignored. (That’s what editors are for later in the writing process.) Sometimes there were question marks. Parts people liked were underlined. Everyone wrote notes in the margin. Those notes were the tiller, private comments, usually positive, sometimes extremely personal, and always a course correction or a steady as she goes. In a little over a year, I found I had a knack for similes (painting word pictures) and syntax (words arranged to create well-formed sentences).

Then came the day when I shared a scene. When I finished reading, the group leader canvased the members, “Who wants to go first?” One of the ladies, whose opinion I trusted, looked up at me from her copy of my paragraphs and said, “This is music.”

On the way home that night I felt like my mission had been accomplished. I could write. My voice turned out to be me, sitting quietly, brutally honest, and writing from my heart. Dipping into the same well of creativity and inspiration I had used as a designer, only using words rather than magic markers and pencils.

Not every critique group is the same. Some are even genre specific. Ask around and do some research. Also, ask yourself why you are joining a group. What do you expect to get out of the experience: learning, sense of community, networking, or perhaps finding your voice?

Our leader at Red Oak Writing paid me a wonderful compliment when my book, My Father’s Keep, won two international and two national self-publishing awards. She said, “You were successful because you came into the group knowing that you didn’t know. You were a sponge, unafraid to learn. That’s not everyone’s agenda.”

Terrifying yes, but it was worth passing through that portal.





Writing Is Doing the Hard Work of Justice

I am honored to have Brian Forschner, author of the compelling Cold Serial: The Jack the Strangler Murders, his wife, Joyce, and his granddaughter as authors of the guest post this month. I met Brian about six years ago through an online writing group, and three years later, Brian began sharing with me his research for his book, which I ultimately had the privilege and honor of editing. As does Cold Serial, this post conveys Brian’s heart and passion for justice and his belief in the power of the written word.


Sixty students had tackled their eighth-grade capstone project. The theme was “Justice and the complexity of story.” The words of Malala, a favorite quote of the class, became a battle cry for the students: “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” So sixty “pens” and one teacher went to work. The project entailed searching for sixty “voices,” defined as individuals whose stories illustrate the concept of justice. Students interviewed their “voices” and then wrote a summary of their conversation. These stories were then compiled and published in a book entitled Hear My Story: Be My Voice.

The day to unveil the book finally arrived; the audience of parents, grandparents, and other middle school students did not know what to expect. The ceremony began with a moving ritual honoring the “voices.” Each was met by his or her student “pen,” presented with a white rose, symbolic of hope, escorted up the aisle of the one hundred-year-old chapel, and seated near the altar. A priest and a rabbi then offered reflections, which were followed by the son of an Auschwitz survivor whose story had spearheaded the project. Given time constraints, only a few of the “voices” spoke, each briefly telling his or her powerful story, and the audience was awestruck and deeply moved by their words. The speakers were a Western Saharan woman, ousted from her country by invading Moroccans, now a human rights activist; a granddaughter who spoke for her grandfather, a WWII decorated veteran, who was present; and a high school student who spoke of his mother, a beloved teacher at the school. He told of her long battle with depression, culminating in her suicide. Many in the chapel were brought to tears listening to his words. The audience realized they had just witnessed a sacred moment and responded to the stories in the only way they knew how: a standing ovation.

A minister closed with a prayer. The students then filed out and went to the school cafeteria for a luncheon in honor of the “voices.”

The “pens” may not have anticipated the impact of their efforts. This is true for us writers. We often do not know the impact of what we say. Perhaps that is why and how stories should be told, innocently, truthfully, vulnerably, and forcefully, placing the words upon the page, allowing the reader to digest, feel, know, critique, admire, and act. Then the writer moves on to tell the next story, and the next and the next. This book, Hear My Story: Be My Voice, is a witness to the nature of doing justice. It is telling story after story, each building on the veracity of the previous one, words woven together into a tapestry illustrating justice.

This was hard work for the students and their teacher. Writing is hard work. Justice is hard work. Writing is doing the hard work of justice. A key learning from this project was that, in every era, words can bring about justice and change.

Malala would be proud.