The Sisters of The Good Samaritan - Protection of Children, Young People and Vulnerable Adults
December 2018

Preparing the way for the writer’s voice to be heard

Sr Patty Fawkner SGS

The legendary William Shawn, who edited the influential publication The New Yorker for 35 years, said that “the work of a good editor, like the work of a good teacher, does not reveal itself directly; it is reflected in the accomplishments of others”, writes Sister Patty Fawkner.

BY Patty Fawkner SGS

The dictionary tells us that the first “species” of editor is a person who prepares a final copy of something by taking out extra words and fixing errors. As a writer, I am in need of, and grateful for, such editing.

But I have also encountered another class of editor. This is the person who establishes a relationship with me as writer, who is there as encourager not gate-keeper, who is in my corner helping me in every possible way to gain greater insight into what I actually want to say and to find my authentic voice.

An editor of this ilk is also mindful of the reader and will help me as writer to express myself so that the reader “gets it”. Critical advice may be offered in helping me with the flow of my writing and perhaps suggesting some rearrangement of my text, and urging me to find a fresh expression beyond lazy clichés.

This second editor is a type of John the Baptist figure. “He must become greater; I must become less,” the Baptist famously said (John 3:30). The editor’s role is not to impose their agenda on the content, but to prepare the way for the writer’s voice to be heard.

The legendary William Shawn, who edited the influential publication The New Yorker for 35 years, said that “the work of a good editor, like the work of a good teacher, does not reveal itself directly; it is reflected in the accomplishments of others”.

It occurs to me that Stephanie Thomas, who for eight years has edited The Good Oil, the free, monthly e-magazine of the Good Samaritan Sisters, is such an editor. This edition of The Good Oil is Stephanie’s 87th (!) and her last.

“The time feels right to finish,” says Stephanie, “and to hand over to someone else who can take the publication to another stage. I hope to have time to recharge my creative energies, do some freelance and contract project work, and explore other opportunities where I can use my skills in writing, editing, research and analysis”.

When Stephanie came on board, The Good Oil was still a new publication. Almost single-handedly she has guided it to become an award-winning, quality publication. Within Australian Catholic religious publications, The Good Oil holds a unique place; I know of nothing else like it.

Stephanie has brought “soul” to her role as editor. Her work has been a labour of love. Never seeking the limelight herself, Stephanie’s focus has been on the quality of the publication and the care of her interviewees and her writers, whom she describes as “generous, insightful and creative”. She has deep respect for each and all of The Good Oil’s many writers and forges a warm professional and personal relationship with each of them.

Over the last four years Stephanie organised three different writers’ workshops for The Good Oil’s contributors, engaging experienced published writers to share their insights and lead skill-development sessions which focused on the craft of effective opinion and reflective writing.

Stephanie’s goal, which continues to be realised, was to create, from a disparate group of writers, a sense of community and mutual learning. Her aim has been to develop a shared commitment to The Good Oil’s mission to publish “news, feature and opinion articles, and reflective content which aims to nourish the spirit, stimulate thinking and encourage reflection and dialogue about issues of the day from a Christian, Catholic, Good Samaritan perspective”.

When communicating to me her decision to resign as editor, Stephanie said of her tenure, “It’s been a privilege and I’m very grateful for the opportunity”. I say ditto. Personally and professionally it has been a privilege and I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to work with Stephanie as one of her writers, as colleague and as friend.

I know The Good Oil community of writers and readers join me in saying, “Thank you, Stephanie, gifted and gracious editor. Well done. God bless.”

Patty Fawkner

Good Samaritan Sister Patty Fawkner is the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She is an adult educator, writer and facilitator with formal tertiary qualifications in arts, education, theology and spirituality. Patty is interested in exploring what wisdom the Christian tradition has for contemporary issues. She has an abiding interest in questions of justice and spirituality.

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