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Sources for short prose for public editing practice?
August 7, 2009 2:02 PM   Subscribe

Where might I find real-life examples of 300-700-word pieces of prose that are neither perfect nor unsalvageable — "problematic," let's say — on which I can practice the craft of editing?

I'm starting a project on my blog: a series of posts wherein I dissect and try my damndest to improve a variety of shortish texts in order to publicly shed an additional shaft of light on the craft we call writing. It doesn't matter where they came from, how old they are, or what their subject matter might happen do be. In fact, the more diverse, the better: reviews, stories, blog posts, observations, dialogues, tracts, anything. The trick is to find material that hasn't already attained the status of "good" but isn't so broken that I'll be forced into an exercise of turd-polishing; I want a sound core of ideas, but a noticeably less-than-perfect execution. Any ideas?
posted by colinmarshall to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Are you kidding? Any randomly chosen blog or Facebook page should provide you with ample material.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:07 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wikipedia.
posted by jillsy_sloper at 2:08 PM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Any randomly chosen blog or Facebook page

Good, but the average blog post or Facebook page's prose falls on the "too shoddy to work with" side. I need a fixer-upper, not water in the foundation.
posted by colinmarshall at 2:08 PM on August 7, 2009


You could always go to your local university or community college and explain your project to an English professor. I bet there are plenty of "problematic" papers they'd let you peruse.

Hmmm. I'm feeling self-conscious about my grammar now.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 2:10 PM on August 7, 2009


Newspapers, especially small-town ones. They're edited, but usually badly and superficially. Every day my wife and I point out howlers to each other from our local rag (not named because it's no worse than others and I don't want to hold it up for particular abuse).
posted by languagehat at 2:10 PM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Help college and grad student applicants with their essays. These are scenarios where you are stuck with content, but free with execution options. Above and beyond that, you could probably get paid for it (assuming you were not terrible at it, and had some idea of a good angle to take with respect to admissions).

Just a thought.
posted by milqman at 2:11 PM on August 7, 2009


Pick a popular, long, Metafilter comment.

This one, for example, is 793 words. There are shorter ones, too.
posted by The World Famous at 2:13 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Have you considered fanfiction? There's buckets of it out there, whether short or long, and usually written by people with more enthusiasm than talent.
posted by Lorc at 2:13 PM on August 7, 2009


(That one is very well-written, though. Maybe you want something that's not as good. There are plenty of those here, too.)
posted by The World Famous at 2:13 PM on August 7, 2009


Pick a popular, long, Metafilter comment.

Solid idea. The cited commenter actually did a fine job, but I'm sure there's treasure trove of fixable short pieces in them thar Metafilter hills.
posted by colinmarshall at 2:17 PM on August 7, 2009


Yeah, scarabic's comment is well-written, and I didn't mean to imply that it was in need of editing or "problematic." It was just the first long one that sprung to mind.
posted by The World Famous at 2:19 PM on August 7, 2009


Unsolicited editing?

(1) You don't have the legal right to use other people's works on your blog unless they have given you permission.

(2) People aren't going to respond well to the guy who came out of nowhere and thinks their writing sucks.
posted by ifandonlyif at 2:39 PM on August 7, 2009


People aren't going to respond well to the guy who came out of nowhere and thinks their writing sucks.

You're absolutely right; that's one of the reasons I want to avoid examples of true suckage.

And if I must be the one to make the groundbreaking move of quoting other text in a blog post, so be it. Fortune favors the bold.
posted by colinmarshall at 2:45 PM on August 7, 2009


You know, if you're going to use someone's post from MeFi, you could at least ask the poster first.
posted by The World Famous at 2:54 PM on August 7, 2009


You are not going to be strictly quoting other people's stuff. You are going to be editing their stuff too. See the difference? If you don't care, it's probably not going to be a big deal. But keep in mind you could get called out for it, especially if you piss someone off.
posted by ifandonlyif at 2:56 PM on August 7, 2009


Indeed, though it goes without saying that I won't identify the author or source of the excerpt; I actually hope I'll find a way not to know the author's identity myself.
posted by colinmarshall at 2:58 PM on August 7, 2009


Sign up for a Textbroker account. Post an order for 2-star quality level articles on a topic - or topics - of your choice. You can specify the length.

At level two, you should get some very rough pieces of work. Technically, you will then own them and can post them on your blog at your leisure.
posted by meggie78 at 3:22 PM on August 7, 2009


My site has been publishing exactly this sort of thing for a few years. Some of the stuff from the early days is pretty rough. Feel free to use anything with my name (Nick Martens) on it, and I'm sure the other writers would be cool if you contact them first. Oh, and send me an email if you use our writing; I'd love to see what you do with it.
posted by martens at 3:24 PM on August 7, 2009


Indeed, though it goes without saying that I won't identify the author or source of the excerpt; I actually hope I'll find a way not to know the author's identity myself.

although a quick google of the original content will make it pretty clear . . .

it seems like your intent is to be professional and constructive, not overly snarky, so it's a good idea. perhaps you could take some of the more visible blog posts from huffpo, some of those guys are paid good money for some terrible writing
posted by Think_Long at 3:46 PM on August 7, 2009


I'm only going to be snarky if I pull a piece of writing directly from an expressly-compiled Bad Writing Compendium: the excerpts at the bottom of this page, for example.
posted by colinmarshall at 4:06 PM on August 7, 2009


Any "About Us" page for a small business website? Might even get you some business.
posted by chocolate_butch at 5:47 PM on August 7, 2009


Losers of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest.

Or, the winners.
posted by Wet Spot at 6:00 PM on August 7, 2009


There's plenty of fodder on .gov sites, and much of it is in the public domain. You could use an advanced Google search for a buzzword or phrase like "at this point in time" and restrict the results to .gov domains.
posted by PatoPata at 9:09 AM on August 8, 2009


Amazon reviews?
posted by Artw at 2:35 PM on August 8, 2009


Amazon reviews?

Choice.
posted by colinmarshall at 8:27 PM on August 8, 2009


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