From the Other Side of the Desk

Saturday, April 13, 2013
I consider myself a writer. I also edit copy for a living. But in the past few months, I've also taken on the role as the editor of a nonfiction magazine. I'm on the other side of the desk now and it's a strange feeling.

(Please note: It's a publication within the organization where I work and, unfortunately, it doesn't allow for pitches or assignments for freelance writers.)

This editor position is a different role than the writer positions I've had before. I'm still evolving as an editor. But I've learned some important lessons that I've tried to pass along to my writers, which I thought I'd pass along to readers of The Muffin:

  • Tell a story. Although facts and figures are important, a story will captivate the reader more than a recitation of the facts. Stuck on the numbers? Think of ways you would explain the story to your mother or good friend and they ask: Why do these facts or numbers matter? That can help you crystallize the heart of the story.
  • Research. And research some more. If you haven't found a story yet, keep looking. In my role as a writer, I've often worked to tease out a story and that sometimes involves having to dig deeper into your research. More research can uncover a thread that can lead the reader through your piece.
  • What interests you? Good chance that if you write, you probably read a lot. Take a look at some of the articles that you have enjoyed reading and figure out what attracts you to the writing. Did the story start with a quotation? Is it a first-person tale? Try to apply some of those elements to your own writing.
  • Ask a peer to read your work. When you are writing an article, ask for feedback from your peers or, if you know them, readers of the magazine. Oftentimes if someone is familiar with a magazine, she can help identify how to make your article stronger.
  • Proofread! So, you've found your story and you've layered it with the best you have to offer. You are ready to turn it in. Or are you? Step away from it and give yourself some distance. When you return to the piece, read through it and look for rough patches and typos. Make sure you turn in your best work.
In my new role, I'm also making it a point to keep an open dialogue between my writers and me. If they have questions, I encourage them to ask. And I'll even try to help them with their drafts.

I'm still learning how to be a magazine editor. What lessons have you learned from an editor you've worked with? What's the best advice you've ever received from an editor?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in Wilmington, North Carolina. The azalea blossoms are this weekend's distraction. What's your weekend distraction?


Sioux Roslawski said...

Elizabeth--It's a good thing you included that note, otherwise you'd be buried under with submissions and queries and bribes.

I think the best advice/idea I ever got from an editor was during a retreat, when the editor suggested we "walk and talk" about my project. Just the physical act of walking added another dimension to our discussion.

Elizabeth, your tips are ones that are always good to do. Thanks for the reminders...

Susie - Walking Butterfly said...

Extremely helpful, thanks!

Margo Dill said...

I think the best advice that I ever received from an editor is to make sure articles have takeaway. Every article--whether it's a self-help or an educational article or personal essay. Articles with takeaway have another layer. Great post, Elizabeth.

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