Recently, I joined some of the other editors for a radio show to promote the release of our latest issue. We floated as an idea for the show the theme “Poets and Editors,” and while we instead spent a lot of time talking about the poems in our latest issue that we’re really excited about, it got me thinking about being a poet and being an editor. At the same time. And now that we’re coming to the end of the semester, I’ve been reflecting on how these two hats have influenced each other over the past few months.
Before I joined the Long River Review, I interned for a magazine in Boston called Salamander. It was fun because it was small, and so when I wasn’t organizing the fiction contest, I sometimes read submissions for the reading period. It was my first taste of editing, where work was scored by number and a few comments and then passed on to another reader. For the first time, I had to think critically about what was going on the piece that made it something we wanted, so that I could pass it along. This was a very useful exercise for me. I had to be objective, to ask myself what it was that I didn’t like, and I had to put my finger on a lot of concepts that before were a bit nebulous.
For me, being an editor is much different than being in a workshop. In workshop, I read a poem two or three times, sometimes aloud, look for things I like about it, and pick out what’s working best. When I’m editing, I tend to read the piece as a finished product, and so I try to immerse myself in it. If there’s something that’s not working, it tends to pull me out of the experience. So right away I’m approaching things differently.
As a poet, I am way more open to trying things, because it’s such a vital part of poetry. Poetry can be flexible, and rules are meant to be broken, but sometimes editing is not so much. When I edit, I keep the poet in the back of my head, to try and balance myself. I think about what the poet is doing, or what the poem is trying to do. Instead of crossing things out I ask questions, sometimes to the poet, but also just to myself.
At the same time, editing has taught me to accept when something has to go. Kill your babies is no joke. This is where being an editor has really helped me criticize my own writing, one of the most helpful things. But at the same time, editing can make me really critical of myself, which when you’re still putting the words on a page, can be really stifling for creativity. I’ve had to learn to turn off that part of my thought process when I’m writing, and go back to it later.
I like to think that my experiences editing and writing have helped nurture both skills, almost like lichen, which as a fantastic poet told me last month, are made up of two organisms which grow together in a mysterious symbiotic process in which they somehow communicate, but don’t touch.
Any ways that writing and editing have intersected for you? Share them with us!