The Return of Lost Daughter: Why every Writer Should Become an Editor

By Natalie Nera

Not so much a room of my own but a borrowed chair and a kitchen table

I have been on both sides of the barricade – the aspiring author licking her wounds from yet another rejection, and the editor who has to fight off persistent attacks from authors who hate being rejected or hate the fact that they are being asked to make changes in their drafts.

Being an ambitious literatus is one thing: you sit in your darkened room, scribbling away in the hope that someone will recognise your hidden genius, preferably sooner rather than later. Becoming an editor is, on the other hand, a cure for any overblown sense of one’s own talent, – and a course of treatment that should be compulsory for any wannabe writer.

First of all, – and this may seem self-evident -, reading other people’s manuscripts teaches you how to identify flaws in a story/poem/script, what works and what does not. You also think about possible solutions to these creative problems. If you can find issues in other people’s works, you become better at spotting them in your own texts, making your writing ultimately better and more polished. This is essential if you are serious about writing, and the difference between an amateur and a professional.

Amateurs get upset at any suggestion that their text is anything other than amazing and faultless. Professionals may disagree with the feedback but take it all on board and work on their drafts to improve them. They understand that writing is a process that is never finished, never completed and never perfect, which does not mean that you should not aim towards perfection like a jeweler polishing a diamond.

Secondly, once you have had to deal with at least one undiscovered Pulitzer Prize/Man Booker Prize/Ted Hughes Award/Nobel Prize candidate who gets irate with you for pointing out the obvious, such as the lack of any narrative arc, cardboard-cut characters or overwriting with strained metaphors, you know you will never do it yourself again to an editor.

Instead, after the initial wave of emotions at being rejected (and it is a nearly physical pain), you take a deep breath and think what you can take from the comments, how to improve your piece. And trust me, the spiel “My tutors gave me high marks for this,” does not work either for it is the editor, not your tutor who ultimately decides whether your masterpiece is going to be published.

I received fantastic feedback from my tutors for one of my short stories, it was highly praised, yet whenever I submitted it, it got rejected. Ten times. Each time, I made changes to it, re-drafted it, time after time, again and again until it got accepted for publication by a very prestigious magazine in Britain. On and off, I worked on this particular short story for eight months.

If I have preached to the converted I hope I am going to be forgiven. But let me finish with one saying a very dear friend of mine, of more mature years and life experience, used to tell me all the time: “Talent is cheap.”  Being talented does not make anyone special, and I always remember that.