Monday, October 12, 2020

McDougall Editorial

My friend and master editor, Diane McDougall, has recently launched her own editorial service which I highly recommend for anyone who needs help with their words.

To give you a sense of just how good Diane is, I've copied a letter I sent her a few years ago when she transitioned from being the editor for the EFCA's publications. She's had a profound influence on my writing life.



I want to thank you—not just for your excellent story-surfacing and story-telling service to the EFCA in general—but for your life-giving ministry of opportunity-giving in particular to me.

We’ve been collaborating now for almost two decades. And by “collaborating” I mean you’ve been graciously taking chances on me. Our first interaction was (appropriately enough) an email interview about the use of new media technology in the Allegheny District. Our little rural church in the woods of Pennsylvania had just launched our first website (the first church website in our county!), and I was also becoming the first moderator of a listserv email for district church leaders to spark conversations with one another. Those first back-and-forth emails from my AOL account to your email address at Journey Group started a volley that has been repeated many thousands of times since.

Once I had a taste of getting something published, I definitely wanted more. I began banging on your door. In the summer of 2001, our church had put on a large-scale outreach event that brought 10 times as many visitors to our campus as we normally had on a Sunday. You asked me to write about our Wild West Day, and I sent you a sprawling document with nearly twice as many words as you wanted. This would mark the beginning of my apologies for the weakness of my writing and relentless requests for you to work your magic to edit my feeble attempts. My email begged, “Please be ruthless with the editing. I’d rather it be good and helpful than it be distinctively mine. It is also 491 words according to my word-processor so you’ve got a job ahead of you slimming it down to size. Thanks for the stretching opportunity and your patience with this rookie reporter!”

Not long after that (September 2004), I sent you a pesky email asking if you would consider taking me on as a “stringer” for the Beacon. Instead of a kind rebuff, you graciously replied with several ideas of things I could contribute and an offer for me to help with more brainstorming in the future. You’re really good at that—encouraging people to participate and find their voice (even when I’m sure it would be easier for you to just do it yourself). Out of that interaction came an article about using the national conference as a resource for local ministry, “Taking the Treasure Home With You: Using the EFCA National Conference in Your Local Church.” A stringer was born! Over the next 15 years, I would write more than a dozen similar articles about church and denominational ministry.

More than just tolerating or utilizing me, you also constantly pushed me and stretched me. You encouraged me to try my hand at journalism and gave me assignments where I had to interview people and weave together their insights into articles. One of those was about the 2008 national conference where we revised our Statement of Faith. My article was to be about everything that happened at the conference that wasn’t about the big vote. The other major article was about what districts were doing to counter the plague of pornography that was infecting our pastors. These journalistic opportunities had at least two good effects on me. The allowed me to play out unfulfilled ambitions of mine (I had, for a short time, been a journalism student in college) and clearly showed me the limits of my gifts (I learned that I had chosen rightly to drop that major! I am definitely not a journalist and shouldn’t quit my day job). Without your encouragement, I might have always wondered what could have been.

If not a journalist, then what? A pastor and a book lover. Yes, that is what I was. I kept sending book reviews your way, and you couldn’t run them all. You needed to spread the wealth. But instead of turning me away, you put me to work. You picked my brain about what books would be good to review and who would be good to review them. Before I knew it, you had turned me from “stringer” into “volunteer book review coordinator,” and we had worked together with aspiring reviewers writing “on spec” to produce nearly 40 book reviews for EFCA Today and EFCA Now.

And then I wrote my own book, Resisting Gossip, and you helped me with that, too. You read the entire manuscript, provided me with invaluable advice on its contents, wrote an encouraging endorsement blurb, and gave me a chance to write an article about my topic for EFCA Now.

The theme of this story is that you have given me a chance, then given me a new chance, and then when that was over, you gave me yet another chance—each time developing my gifts and giving me more responsibility. You didn’t just let me write but made me a partner. You didn’t just teach me how to write but how to recognize good writing. You didn’t just edit me, you showed me how to be an editor. And all along you were patient with my many words and my incessant opinions.

Diane, what I’m trying to say is thank you for believing in me and giving me all of these opportunities. The Lord has used you in mighty ways in my life.

And yes, I know this ostensibly short note is actually rambling and verbose, but there was no way I could send it to my favorite editor to get it fixed.

— Matt Mitchell