Monday, October 3, 2016

Writing Advice from an Editor to an Intern

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I didn’t set out to become an editor. I wanted to be a successful writer working from home. I became both after years of writing then taking a writing class where I met the woman who just bought one of the magazines I now write for and edit.

I started out as an unpaid intern for the magazines. I wrote articles as well as learned about copyediting (turning press releases and items sent in by the public about meetings and events into style copy for the magazine issue), layouts (placing headlines, bylines, copy, ads, pull quotes, photos, and captions on each page), proofreading (using the correct proofreaders’ marks), and all the little things to check in an effort to publish an almost perfect issue (something always goes wrong).

A few years later, I became the editor of one then two magazines—a job I love.

Now I’m working with an intern who wants to be a writer and an editor. I’m happy to share my knowledge and experience with her; however, writing skills are more straightforward to teach than editing skills. My writing advice is posted now. My advice for editing will be posted on October 17, 2016.

Here is my writing advice:                                                                        

To be a better writer, write. It’s just that simple. There is never enough time to write. You must make the time to write. Get up early. Stay up late. Write anytime you are waiting for someone or something. Writers write! Jot down thoughts and sentence fragments, plots, and ideas in a notebook or record on phone. 

If you want to be a professional writer, learn to write on demand, not wait for inspiration, by writing to deadlines. Filling a notebook a month as recommended by Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones is a great way to start. Write a concise weekly blog—300-500 words—without fail. Write three pages every morning as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. If really short on time, write Six-Word Memoirs®. (See books by the same title or visit Smith Magazine online.)

Take writing classes or join a writing group. Deadlines and feedback are essential.

“It is easy to lose sight of the fact that writers do not write to impart knowledge to others, rather, they write to inform themselves.”   –Judith Guest

Choose a magazine you enjoy reading. Write an article following its style (topic, word count, tone, etc.). Write about what you love. Learn from the best as you can interview experts or participants in whatever topics interest you. Write your first drafts without thought to the word count. Then rewrite your articles repeatedly. Final articles should be your best work including all the points you wanted to make as well as meeting the word counts. Submit articles for publication.

“Don't market yourself. Editors and readers don't know what they want until they see it. Scratch what itches. Write what you need to write, feed the hunger for meaning in your life.”     –Donald M. Murray

Write with abandon then rewrite by writing concisely.

“Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hope.”   –William Hellman

For reference: on average, I spend 35-40% of my time writing and 60-65% rewriting pieces for publication. I rewrite my articles five, six, ten times until I’m satisfied it’s the best I can do. Read pieces aloud to catch mistakes.

“Writing is really rewriting—making the story better, clearer, truer.” –Robert Lipsyte

“Look for verbs of muscle, adjectives of exactitude.”  --Mary Oliver in Blue Pastures on page 89.

Meet all deadlines, no matter what, as professional writers and editors won’t work for long if they don’t.

Also, read everything. A better reader is a better writer.

Read writing books. I have recommended many on this blog (see partial list at end of this post), especially The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

All knowledge makes you a better writer (and editor). I read all genres as good writers make any genre or topic interesting. I also read books about philosophy, science, space, and art as well as classic novels and bestsellers.

“You learn to write by reading and writing, writing and reading. As a craft, it's acquired through the apprentice system, but you choose your own teachers. Sometimes they're alive, sometimes they're dead.”  –Margaret Atwood

Read often and widely including poetry to get a feel for words, language, flow, and rhythm.

Poetry is essential. Ray Bradbury makes this recommendation to writers on page 36 of Zen in the Art of Writing:

Read poetry every day of your life…it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough…it expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition.

Reading expands your vocabulary, too. Look up every word new-to-you for future reference. Write these words and definitions in your notebooks so you remember them.

Make sure the words you use (or edit) mean what you think they mean otherwise you look foolish. Once in print, it is out there forever so take the time to refer to a dictionary,, or the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. Use correct punctuation and grammar, too.  

For writers (and editors), words are our medium. Spend as much time as possible reading and writing.

“…writing is finally sitting alone in a room and wrenching it out of yourself, and nobody can teach you that.”       –Jon Winokur

Writing Book Recommendations: 

(I have reviewed most of these books on this blog. Dates of posts are in parentheses.)

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield  (8/30/12)

Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield  (9/9/13)

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg  (5/6/13; 1/12/14)

The Right to Write and The Writer’s Life by Julia Cameron  (5/6/13; 1/12/14)

Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald  (6/26/16)

The Golden Rule by Brian McDonald  (7/25/16)

The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase by Mark Forsyth  (2/23/15)

The Writer’s Home Companion edited by Joan Bolker, Ed. D.  (12/3/12)

Blue Pastures by Mary Oliver  (3/21/16; 4/4/16)

Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury  (3/9/15)

For Writer’s Only by Sophy Burnham  (12/17/12)

The Writing Life by Ellen Gilchrist  (7/21/14)

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild (1/28/13)    

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes  (1/11/16)

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block (will be reviewed)

The Book on Writing by Paula LaRocque (will be reviewed)

The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop by Stephen Koch  (8/5/13)

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (5/6/13)

A Writer’s Paris: A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul by Eric Maisel  (5/25/15)

Fiction Writing Master Class by William Cane (9/7/15)

The Soul of Creative Writing by Richard Goodman 10/19/15)

Backpack Literature by XJ Kennedy and Dana Gioia (4th post each month, September 2016-April 2017)

On Writing by Stephen King—needs no review

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion by William Kenower  (8/8/16)

The Writing Trade by John Jerome (1/14/13)


Mary Oliver  (4/28/14) I read all her books.

Billy Collins  (4/22/13) I read all his books.

Anthologies & classic poetry


A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman. (5/27/13) I recommend all of her books.

At Home by Bill Bryson. I read all his books.  (12/24/12; 1/26/15)

Books by Joseph Campbell & The Art of Reflection: A Joseph Campbell Companion by Diane K. Osbon


Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart  (8/26/13)

Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell  (9/29/14)

On Conan Doyle by Michael Dirda  (11/23/15)

Six-Word Memoirs edited by Larry Smith  (9/10/12)


Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman (11/26/12)

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (5/26/14) Title of an essay, not subject of book.

High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver (7/22/13)

A Cup of Comfort for Writers edited by Colleen Sell  (5/11/15)


Screenplay by Robin Russin and William Missouri Downs  (8/10/15)

On Story: Screenwriters and Their Craft edited by Barbara Morgan and Maya Perez  (6/6/16)


Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus (6/9/14)

The Synonym Finder by J I Rodale  (6/9/14)

Grammar and punctuation books


Are You There Blog? It’s Me Writer by Kristen Lamb, award-winning blog

Steven Pressfield, blog Writing Wednesdays at

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