Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
I recently spoke with a woman who expressed an interest in editing. Since it was an opportunity to talk about writing and editing, I got excited, as I always do, encouraging her and making suggestions for ways she could get started.
One topic we mentioned was writing, actually working on a novel. I love the idea of editors taking on the task of writing a novel, of putting a full-length story together with all the challenges that entails.
I think every fiction editor should write.
Not write to necessarily to sell the fiction, but for the practice, for learning new skills, and for creating a shared experience with writers.
Those who edit short fiction should write a number of short stories or novellas, and those who edit long fiction should write at least one novel. This doesn’t mean an editor has to seek publication, although she could. And it certainly doesn’t mean an editor is a failure if she remains unpublished.
Writing a novel is simply great in-depth training for becoming adept at using the elements of fiction and the building blocks of writing.
No, you don’t have to write a novel to be an editor—writing and editing are ultimately two different tasks. Yet writing, putting together a novel from beginning to end, can help editors. The practice would certainly give an editor experience she couldn’t gain by other means.
The act of writing a novel can also give editors insights that can be learned no other way. Why wouldn’t an editor want to learn about writing a novel from the inside? Why wouldn’t an editor want to sharpen her skills and broaden her knowledge base, even learn to communicate with novelists using a shared language based on going through the same challenges under the same conditions?
Some knowledge comes only through experience.
I’m not saying that writing a novel wouldn’t take a lot of time, that working on it wouldn’t preclude taking on other tasks or jobs, but there is so much to be gained from facing story and structure problems from the inside that I can’t see how any editor would argue against the practice.
My recommendation today is for editors, and it’s simple advice—start writing. If you edit long fiction, start a novel. If you edit short fiction, try your hand at a few short stories, maybe of different styles. Put yourself in the writer’s shoes and work through story problems using different approaches. Learn new approaches to problem solving. Use what you already know about fiction writing to create a strong story and then use the problems that come up to learn new fixes and additional problem-solving techniques.
Add skills and experience to your repertoire. Look for new ways of helping writers by expanding your own knowledge and experience base.
Try something different, maybe something highly unusual, to remind yourself that there are multiple ways to solve story problems.
Come at story from a new direction, as the creator building it from the inside. And see if doing so doesn’t give you additional tools and insight that you can then share with your authors.
The idea isn’t an earth-shattering one, but maybe you’ve never considered actually writing a novel from beginning to end. So consider it. And if you considered it in the past but never followed through, consider the project again. Look at it as advanced training.
If you’ve already written a piece of long fiction but it was so long ago that you can’t remember either the joys or the frustrations of plotting a novel and bringing all the story elements together, tackle the task again. Choose a different genre or try a different point of view. Challenge yourself and give yourself some training at the same time.
Look at fiction from a different vantage point and give yourself something new to bring to your authors and their stories. Freshen your skill set and your approach. Freshen your outlook.
Increase your value as an editor by familiarizing yourself with fiction from the inside out.