Behind the (Writing) Scenes with…

Rosemary Barkes, Central Ohio Branch


To Maintain a Flow, Edit

From The Pen Woman, Winter 2021

When the receptionist from the Washington-Centerville Public Library called to tell me I had just won the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition of 2000, I shrieked, “No way!” After all, I was not even a writer — yet I beat out 300 other contestants.

When I first spied the invitation to enter the competition in the University of Dayton alumni magazine, I felt compelled to write something to honor this famous alum. I knew my chances of winning were slim to none, but this American humorist had entertained me and the entire female population for decades. I owed it to her.

While rubbing elbows at the recognition reception with Pulitzer Prize winner Art Buchwald; Bil Keane, cartoonist of Family Circle; and Phil Donahue, Erma’s neighbor in Centerville, Ohio, I searched frantically for the three judges who selected my winning story.

Upon finding them, I questioned, “What was it about my story that you liked?” In unison, they responded, “It had a great flow.” End of story.

It wasn’t until I became a bona fide writer that I learned the true meaning of “great flow.” Simply put, my story made sense. A was followed by B; B was followed by C. Orderly. No tricks.

Creating a flow in a 450-word story was one thing; maintaining that flow while writing my 282-page book, “The Dementia Dance,” 12 years later, was another! The concept of “great flow” was tricky with my convoluted subject of dementia, and I wondered how on earth I could do it.

I’ll tell you how. By editing. Ruthlessly. Replace pedestrian words with scintillating ones; rearrange words, if necessary; eliminate unnecessary ones.

Step away from your story, then return to it with “fresh” eyes. Continue to edit until you have “brain freeze” — until you can tell yourself, unabashedly, “This story is spot on.”

Rosemary Barkes began a new career as a writer after winning the Erma Bombeck writing award at age 64. Since then, she has published articles and essays in a variety of magazines and anthologies.