It’s Your Voice: Edit Out The Twain and Shakespeare



By: Marilyn L. Davis


Twain Has to Go in the Edits


Maxwell Perkins edited many famous authors, and one of his comments to a room full of aspiring writers has always helped me feel positive about my writing:

“If you have a Mark Twain, don’t try to make him into a Shakespeare or make a Shakespeare into a Mark Twain. Because in the end, an editor can get only as much out of an author as the author has in him.”

While I found Perkins’ quote encouraging, I still struggled with what is my voice. Desperately wanted to be taken seriously, I wrote something humorous. Then I’d read posts on improving our writing and try to incorporate what I thought about the topic, and somehow, I ended up with the tone of that writer. Deciding that I wanted to appear knowledgeable, I continued to insert semicolons as if they were a period, and each sentence needed one. 


My Maxwell Perkins


Scott Biddulph has been a close friend for over twenty years. He created Two Drops of Ink, and when I started writing here, most of his edits reflected my misuse of the semicolon. Finally, he told me not to use a semicolon at all; he was tired of editing them out. 

Note to Scott and self: The above semicolon is correct, please do not edit.


What If There Is No Editor?


Part of the dilemma for any writer with a blog is the issue of who edits. Most single source blogs, while sounding like the individual, often contain problem passages, disconnected paragraphs, and grammar issues. Many don’t seem edited, and although there might not be someone to edit, there are good grammar sites like Grammarly, Hemingway, or ProWritingAidEach of these sites have free applications. 

Also, if you don’t have an editor, let your work sit for a day or two. When you distance yourself from the writing, you view it with fresh eyes a day or two later. 

I’ve also turned off any notifications, and this helps me stop editing, reworking, or revising as I’m writing. When you continuously try to get that introductory sentence just right, your idea for the post often gets lost.


Trial and Error Writers and the Edit


While it’s admirable to understand the use of the semicolon, it represented my attempt to be something I am not, a school-educated writer. Or, as Kurt Vonnegut says, “The only reason to use a semicolon would be “to show you’ve been to college.”

When I was in college, there wasn’t the luxury of edit as you go, cut out an entire paragraph and paste elsewhere, scratch that out and start over. No, I wrote all of my papers in longhand until I’d exhausted the topic and then went back and revised. Even without an editor, I managed to have a 3.94 GPA. 

My point is that I produced essays or research papers that made sense and got good grades. Maybe I knew something then that I forgot with that longhand trial and error method.


Writing in the Heavenly Bed?


Mark Twain, in his later years, wrote in his heavenly bed. While I’m not advocating that, writing with pen and paper connects us to the writing in multiple ways.  Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter. In contrast, a keyboard involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key.

One recent study of hers demonstrated that in grades two, four, and six, children wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard. 

My untested study theorizes that if it works for grades two, four, and six, it should work for me.


Colorful Writing Gives Us Emotional Clues


marilyn l davis two drops of ink color content

Therefore, I wrote this post in longhand and employed a trick I used in the recovery home. I had the women write in blue if they were sad. When they were angry, frustrated, or ready to tear their hair out, they’d write in red, and if envious, well, that’s green.

Since I wasn’t sad, angry, or envious, I wrote it in black. However, I’d encourage you to try writing in various colors. 

You might be surprised how writing in longhand and colors help you stay in character if you're writing dialogue for a fiction piece. Click To Tweet

Even if it’s a nonfiction piece, it helps you get in touch with feelings you have about the topic. 

The other interesting thing about writing in longhand is language stays more authentic. You can have a Thesaurus next to you, but if you’re like most of us, you’ll look up one word, only to have a shiny moment and get lost in another. That’s distracting, so it’s just easier to write in your most comfortable language and forget the similar words.


Ask Your Friends – They Know Your Voice


Find your wordsmith friends and ask them to read your piece before you edit it. Or, you can do an initial edit and send them that. 

Anne Lamott writes about us birthing our pieces and needing a midwife’s help. She also advocates for medications to ease the discomfort during the process. I’ve done Lamaze and an epidural and completely agree with her that an epidural is by far better; it was the help I needed to experience the moment without getting lost in pain. 

So, the midwife aspect and approach – coaching, holding our hand, and comforting us, well, that’s what a trusted friend or editor can do as well.

I’ve never had a problem asking my motor-head friends what a strange sound is when it’s my car. I know I don’t know much about engines, and they do. 

One told me that the noise in my car isn’t a rock stuck in the wheel well, that it’s a significant problem. Now, I can’t even tell you what that problem was; I know it got fixed because I listened to my motor-head friend.

When we ask friends to edit, remember that they are on their time, not ours. Just a word of caution. Unless you have given them a deadline to respond, don’t disown them when they haven’t replied in time (that’s your time, which may not be theirs). Also, don’t decide the post is drek, and your friends are too kind to tell you.


Wait: Be Patient and Grateful for the Edit


If they are good friends, they won’t be afraid to tell you that they got bored, that your plot thickened into a quagmire and they got stuck, or that your tenses didn’t match. It’s those “glaring faults” that someone else can see when they read it. 

When friends edit and tell you it doesn't read like you, I know you're thinking, Who the hell do you think wrote it? Don't. Click To Tweet

They are telling you that you have a voice and they aren’t reading yours in the words you’ve chosen. This person knows how you talk. What they’re telling you is that it doesn’t sound like you. 

When they tell you that you did a better job on another project, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Ask them what worked in the first post, piece, or even book and try to apply their advice to the second.


A Good Editor Nurtures Your Voice


I’ve been fortunate; Scott was my Maxwell Perkins. But Perkins wasn’t just an editor. He nurtured talent, was courteous and encouraging, much like Scott Biddulph was with me, and I hope that I am with the writers at Two Drops of Ink now that I’m Editor-in-Chief. 



So, stop by our submissions page and see if a caring editor doesn’t improve your voice.


Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing



  1. Great and encouraging insights. It made me think more about my different writing techniques. I go between longhand (which anyone else would call “longscrawl”), a plain text editor software with absolutely no formatting options (which I use to draft posts for Two Drops of Ink, for example), and MS Word (which I tend to use for more business-oriented writing). It all depends on the relationship between writing and thinking, and whether I want to edit extensively in real-time versus in a separate session.

    • Hi, Christopher. I think it’s essential, as you pointed out, to find what works for us when we write. I turn off all notifications in Word when I’m free-writing. All those red squiggly lines are a distraction. However, I’ll edit initially in Word, then switch to Grammarly.

      I think that our voice is what attracts readers. They want to hear us. For instance, if I’m writing to the addicted population on From Addict 2 Advocate, I tend to use words, that in the recovery world, have slight variations on the general understanding of a word, like “a meeting.” In the business world, where you are, there is probably a different focus. Again, it’s critical to know who we are writing for and why.

      Specific to voice, again, that depends on the audience. But in writing for Two Drops of Ink and From Addict 2 Advocate, I have to make sure that I’m authentic for each.

  2. Marilyn..your words are always so useful and meaningful. Appreciate your sharing of insight and experiences. Nothing speaks to me stronger than someone reporting from the front lines. And, as always, your encouragement never ceases to motivate!

    As for typing versus pencil pushing…I’m in league with Michelle, needing the speed to keep up with the thoughts! However, I do have a permanent bump on the knuckle of my forefinger to prove that I previously wore out pencils at a phenominal rate. Now, I prefer typing – it was the only class (one year only!) I ever excelled in at high school. Yep! Fastest typist in a class of seventy-eight girls!

    The colors? Yes…I understand and agree! Semicolons…ugh! Aha…you noticed – I’ve replaced semicolons with three, count ’em (3) dots! Of course I talk that way (dot, dot, dot)! It’s a terrible habit but, I have nice hair.

    • Hi, Slug. I don’t know if trust people without that finger bump. The three dot approach works, too. Thanks, as always, for your kind words and humor!

  3. Another great post Marilyn! Finding my voice has always been a tricky proposition for me! I feel as if I have searched everywhere for it – as if it were somewhere out there in the universe – instead of inside myself. 🙂 I gave up trying to “find” it and instead just write from the heart. I wish there was a pat formula to just find the dang thing! Lol! However, even though I can’t define” it, I do think a good editing team (so grateful to have Scott’s expertise and caring direction, as well as your encouraging insights and wisdom, Marilyn), along with a good community of writers and readers goes a long way in the discovery process! Two Drops has provided all of this for me! Thank you!

  4. I used to write on paper too. For years I resisted the switch, but once I finally made it, I found I like the ability to edit so much more quickly. My typing got so much better that I can now type as fast as I think, which I could never do handwriting. Sometimes the words came so fast I couldn’t keep up longhand. However, I still have my journals, and feeling the pencil in my hand will always be a sensation I love.

  5. Marilyn, I always find your writing full of exceptionally great pointers. I to favor writing all my words out on paper. I feel more engaged in my thoughts using this method. For me, paper and pencil are more comfortable. I can usually find a peaceful spot to jot some notes down when needed. My struggle is paper to computer. If I knew how to type better and quicker. I could probably put out more content sooner. I hope over time. I become better at typing and finding my voice. Thanks again.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.