Hello everyone! For my first post, I want to talk about some concerns many emerging writers, like myself, may have. Some writers are lucky to have experienced the industry already (maybe even published their work while in college). The rest of us are still beginning to learn how the world of publishing works. I thought I knew a lot already, but the more I learn, the more I realize just how gigantic the iceberg is beneath the surface. So let’s talk about a new perspective. We need to think about what we can learn from literary editors that will improve our writing. We’ll cover three main points:
- How can I write something editors want?
- Writing advice is everywhere
- Pretend you’re an editor, even if you aren’t
Although I’m a creative writer, I’m also deeply interested in editing. I’m learning directly from an editor of a literary magazine about how to read submitted works critically, and what editors look for when publishing, among other important skills. I think a big question that emerging writers have (or at least, a question I knew I had):
How Can I Write Something Editors Want?
Unfortunately, there is no simple formula or answer to this. If there was, writing wouldn’t be the unique, challenging craft that it is. The good news is it’s not impossible to figure out what magazines are looking for. One thing to keep in mind is that publishing is not a cookie-cutter industry. Each editor is different, and the aesthetics of each literary magazine will disagree. What one editor thinks is a great submission may not quite work for another.
Although there’s no way around this subjectivity, there are still many ways to refine your work so that it’s a good candidate for publishing. For example:
- Constructing impactful characters
- Utilizing metaphor effectively
- Crafting meaningful imagery
- Balancing subject and metaphor
I’ll write about these ideas in more detail in future posts, especially when I learn anything new or particularly useful. Meanwhile, I recommend reading this article on The Review Review for helpful info about what editors want for literary magazines.
Writing Advice is Everywhere
Books about how to write your first novel, how to get published, advice from actual authors—there’s no end to it. Even after reading these materials, I often feel like I’m even less sure about what I’m doing than before I started. I’ve found that learning about editing is more helpful for my writing than anything else I’ve tried.
Many writers don’t seem to think of themselves as editors. I’ve learned that some writers will submit their work with little revisions and expect the editors to take care of it for them. Consequently, those submissions are usually rejected. But if we were to look at our own writing critically, as an editor would, we may figure out how to make it ready for publishing.
Pretend You’re an Editor, even if You Aren’t
Look at a piece of work you’ve written but aren’t sure about. What about the piece doesn’t work, from a craft perspective? What about the piece doesn’t work thematically? What about the narrative, the imagery, the metaphorical devices used? Answering these questions about our own work is tough. Usually it’s easier to look at what someone else has done wrong with their writing. It’s a good idea to read other pieces of writing critically—even if they’ve already been published. The more we practice reading with these questions in mind, the easier it will become to apply these questions to our own writing.
After discussing with my professor/editor the key points to look for in submissions, I went home and looked at a short story I’ve been working on for a while. I tried to dissociate myself from my work, and use the critical reading lens I’ve applied to other writers’ submissions. Something clicked. I made more revisions to what I’d thought was a nearly finished piece. I’ve taken the first step towards understanding what qualities editors are looking for, and how this can be achieved in my own writing voice.
So this is my advice for fellow emerging literary writers: instead of searching for advice on how to write, try searching for how an editor decides what to publish. To help get started on your research, check out this article by Maccarelli about a few things she’s learned from working for a literary magazine. We should think about effective and critical revision—from a literary editor’s perspective—to bring out the full potential in our writing.