My love of novels came later and stirred me to be creative in entirely new ways. In my teen years especially, writing fiction was a chance to escape into a world with interesting people I liked. But I always wrote in pencil, so I could erase and fix things as I wrote. I never drafted a word without first creating character sheets and mapping settings. Even then, signs of having an editor temperament, with a love of planning, design and order, was very evident.
Though I chose English as my undergraduate major, it was always the analytical side of studying literature that riveted me. How does this classic work? What makes me love this author’s narrative voice and despise another’s? Yet my exposure to a wider range of books simultaneously made me take more risks in my own writing and go deeper emotionally. I pursued editing as a career, got a master’s degree in journalism, and have lived my dream of making magazines, yet fiction and poetry writing continue to give my life larger purpose.
The push and pull of the neat organizer versus untamed artist has never entirely gone away. I’ve come to realize this is the two-faced Janus life of a writing editor. My analytical, tidy side has helped me succeed professionally, but my inner wild child is where my best ideas come from.
To a degree, I can harness my editor brain when I’m writing. Editor Brain is great at planning and research, at deciding which scenes need to be dramatized and which ones can be bypassed in a jump-cut or brief narrative summary. And revision feels like a happy playground, where lumps and bumps can be smoothed and the fictional world brought to its full beauty, one sentence at a time.
What Editor Brain struggles with is mess and mystery. Going from neat, ordered character sheets to dramatic action—writing the first draft—feels like a leap into a mucky pit. When I first began drafting Never Gone, I tried to leap from notes to draft by making beat-by-beat note cards to guide the process. In about two days, I had an entire book planned, chapter by chapter.
I turned on the computer, opened my little box of note cards and smugly believed this book would practically write itself. That delusion lasted about five minutes. My neat, organized ideas were rubbish. Boring and stupid. I turned again to the character sheets. The pencil sketch I’d done of my protagonist seemed to shake her head at me and say, “Stop trying to control me. Feel what I feel. Listen!”
Taking the leap into mess and mystery was not easy. When I wholly let go, I wrote plenty that was just plain bad. Some “what ifs?” led to useless tangents. Revisions dragged on a very long time as the two sides warred over what worked and what didn’t. Bringing other voices into the conversation helped tremendously, enabling me to cut 35K words--a whole novella’s worth of off-track scenes and overwritten dialogue. But that was the dark woods I had to walk through to get to the destination.
The story that resulted from entering the mystery still astonishes me. My protagonist’s emotions are far more complex, her relationships more twisty, and the ways she tries to resolve her problems more unexpected than those note cards allowed. And yet Editor Brain gave the Wild Child’s ideas more grounding and helped build a deeply connected theme.
The two-faced life of a writing editor involves harnessing mystery. The creative process can be slow going, but magic happens when both sets of strengths come together in harmony.