Why I Do What I Do

While it is my intent for this blog to focus on practical writing and editing advice and issues of interest to writers of all sorts, I’m going to take time during this first post to write a little bit about setting up The Publish House. One of the most curious questions I have been asked on this journey of starting an editing company is, “Why do you do what you do?” Why, the questioner was asking without any further context, do you work as an editor? My first response (and those who know me will be surprised to learn that it was intended neither sarcastically nor in any snarky sort of way) was that I do what I do because I can. It has been rare, in the course of decades working in teaching writing, from working in some fine universities to tutoring students hoping to get their GEDs, that I have met people who consider themselves to be good writers. Almost everyone, when they find out that I teach writing and am a writer and editor, replies with, “Oh, I stink at writing.” Yet, it has also been my experience that most of the people I meet are beyond interesting, they are fascinating, with unique stories to tell amassed from lifetimes of individual experiences. I have been blessed with the ability to help people tell their stories.

Even though we live in a time in which writing has become a huge part of the way we interact with the world (my kids spend more time texting their friends than talking to them), it is nonetheless true that most people’s stories will never be heard beyond a handful of close family and friends. For their stories to reach a wider audience, they have to be written down, and most people will never commit their thoughts to the page (or the screen as the case may be). Whether it is just that they don’t believe they have anything to say or they just don’t know how to get what they do have to say out of their brains and down in words, most people’s thoughts will remain their own, captive within their own minds. This is why the mission of The Publish House is to “help authors set their ideas free.”

I would never argue that all ideas are of equal worth. My opinion of the performances on Dancing With the Stars are not as meaningful or important as Einstein’s thoughts on general relativity. A fascist’s opinion of what makes for a superior society, in isolation, is not likely to impact the world in a positive way. Yet, all of those ideas, from thoughts on popular culture to the development of scientific theories to the ravings of a dictator, have the potential, when combined with the rest of human thought and history, to provide us with the possibility of reaching for newer, better, more meaningful ideas.

It is my belief that the world of ideas cannot be diluted by adding to it. It only gets richer, more clear, and at the same time, more beautifully complex. A person’s ideas might not be original, but their perspective always is unique, which creates the potential for newness. I might not say anything new, but I will almost certainly say it in a way that no one else has ever said it, which means that it is possible that the idea might reach someone new or create a new understanding in someone who had previously thought of that same idea only in one particular light.

In all of the teaching and tutoring and editing I have done, I have yet to come across a document that I was sure would never reach an audience or mean anything to anyone. On the few occasions when I have read something and thought, “Well, that’s a waste of ink,” that document usually ends up being the subject of a conversation about how much it meant to another reader. That is why I find it to be a blessing to be able to help authors get their ideas out of their heads and out into the world. I view it as a calling and am rarely as happy as when a manuscript gets returned to an author who is pleased with the results. If we are to continue to face the problems of our world, we will need more ideas about all kinds of things, and we simply can never know where the next Einstein will get his spark of inspiration. Maybe it will be from reading about an idea that is in your head right now.