Lisa Ohlen Harris recently launched an on-line critique service to mentor and edit the work of emerging creative nonfiction writers. Lisa is the author of Through the Veil, an essay collection to be published by Canon Press the summer of 2010. Her essays have been published in many venues, including Riverteeth, Arts and Letters, The Laurel Review and Under the Sun, among others. Her work has received special mention in Pushcart Prize XXXIII: Best of the Small Presses (2009) and in Best American Spiritual Writing (2008 and 2010). Lisa is currently at work on her second book, Seek Shelter. In addition, she is Creative Nonfiction Editor for Relief Journal.
Lisa and her family recently moved to Newberg, Oregon. The local paper snapped her up for an interview, which you can read here. You can read her most recent Editor's Blog column at Relief Journal here. And Lisa has recently debuted a personal blog which she describes as "a way for me to begin to publicly think through what it's like to be back in the Pacific Northwest after many years away." It's on my blogroll, but you can check it out here.
I asked Lisa if she would write a paragraph about her new critique service for me to share with all of you. Her response was what I have come to think of as "typical Lisa." Instead of a paragraph promoting her new service, she has given us a tip on technique, an ace we can keep.
Scene and Summary by Lisa Ohlen Harris
"I have lately learned to look at a piece of writing in terms of scene and summary. Most essays flow best when they contain both elements. The give and take between scene and summary provides varying levels of tension and down time for the reader, and wise pacing of these elements can bring new life to an essay. Let the summary go on too long and you'll bore the reader. Scene piled upon scene can be so "interesting" that the reader becomes mentally exhausted. There should never be a scene-then-summary template slavishly applied to every essay, but when you know there's something wrong with a piece and you can't quite put your finger on it, try looking for passages of scene and passages of summary. If the place where you're feeling a lag is a few paragraphs into a long passage of summary, then moving that summary into scene with some strong verbs and vivid description may well liven the passage and win back your reader's attention. Try it. Take whatever you're currently reading or writing (or critiquing) and look at it in terms of scene and summary. You might even go so far as to highlight scenes in one color and summary passages in another. There's no formula, but paying attention to the pacing of scene and summary is a good little tool to have in your toolbox." (Lisa notes that she has found this scene-and-summary thinking to be helpful even in writing a blog post. She would love to have a back-and-forth discussion with us about this, so please add your questions or thoughts in the comments section and see if we can get something going!)
Most of you know that I am working hard to become a better writer. You must know, because I talk about it all the time. It's one thing to toss out blog posts (some of which may have the nucleus of something with potential); quite another to write polished, high quality creative nonfiction, literary essays, short stories and books and to learn the necessary trade craft to be taken seriously.
More than a year has passed since I began to immerse myself in a writing practice outside of my blog. My reading life has changed dramatically. Now, I proactively read the journals in which I would like to someday be published — and, in the doing, have discovered a world of wonderful reading. I read books about the craft of writing, and almost always pick up at least one valuable concept. I am still learning how to submit in a professional manner.
I began to realize I needed help to take my writing to the next level. Enter Lisa Ohlen Harris. As one of the first clients of her new critique service, I sent Lisa one of my longer essays. I had never worked with an editor before and didn't know what to expect. It was comfortable. It was the hardest work I have done so far as a writer. It was exhilarating. With Lisa's help, we chopped more than 500 words from a 3300 word piece, and then added back maybe 100. The focus changed. Even the title changed. Now, that essay tells a story that has iconic symbols, love and loss. It keeps the reader reading.
Bottom line? Thanks to Lisa, I now have her editor voice in my head when I write new pieces and when I revise old ones. She helped me to stand back and figure out what I am really trying to say, to begin to trust my own voice.
If you have never worked with an editor, but would like to kick your writing up several notches, visit Lisa's web site here. She works with emerging creative nonfiction writers, but will give you trusted references for editors who work with fiction authors, if that is your genre. Under the "critique service" tab, you may notice I have provided a testimonial. It was freely given, after our work together had concluded, and I mean every word.