Q&A - How has your experience as an editor changed you as a writer?
By Daniel Boyko and Brooke Nind
How has your experience as an editor changed you as a writer?
When I first began writing as my younger, pre-Polyphony self, I would often jump right into a story or poem, taking some concept I had, or at least part of it, and fleshing it out into writing. The results? Slightly mixed.
In some cases, the writing moved from one part to the next seamlessly, but in others, regardless of the quality or lack thereof of the writing, the ideas behind it were flawed, confused, and unsure of themselves. They read like ideas that hadn’t been fully thought through, because, well… they weren’t. I had some fraction of an idea and took it into writing without taking the time to consider what it was that I actually wanted to convey, what I actually wanted the reader to come away from my piece thinking about.
My experience as an editor has completely transformed my approach. I don’t always complete extremely thorough planning before I start writing (because sometimes, I feel, spontaneous is better), but I do at times take breaks from writing, reread what I’ve put on the page so far, and wonder, What am I trying to say? Does what I have so far successfully say this? I use my editing mindset: I look at tone, theme, character development, abstract versus concrete language, figurative language—all the things I often analyze while providing commentary as an editor—and see if they’re clicking and consistent. If they’re not, well… then it’s time to apply edits.
I also often apply what I refer to as the Editing Test. What would I say if my piece was a Polyphony Lit submission and I needed to edit it? Where would I provide constructive criticism? Where would I provide praise? I’ll often use the Editing Test as a way to guide my rewriting and see where I can patch up any flaws and make any strengths stronger. Granted, this doesn’t always work perfectly, because I can’t always separate myself from my work as much as I can if I didn’t write it, but it’s often extremely helpful in trying to fix overarching flaws.
Now, whenever I start writing a new piece, I’m able to bring the tools that editing for Polyphony has instilled with me.
I’ve been an editor for Polyphony for about three years now, and I’m so thankful I signed up to join the staff. After only a few months of editing for Polyphony, I could already see a huge improvement in my writing abilities. Reading such a wide variety of work and getting acclimated to people’s different writing styles helped me identify what I liked to implement in my own work and what usually didn’t work so well for me.
Many of us have heard that in order to write well, you need to read other people’s writing, and it’s true. I became a better critical reader, which helped me a lot when it came to revising and identifying strengths or weaknesses in my own work. For example, I recognized that vivid imagery comes much more easily to me than character development. I also realized I’d always had trouble with pacing, but got better at gauging it through reading other people’s pieces.
In addition, I’ve been exposed to so many more writing techniques, different literary devices, and different types of poems. I definitely didn’t know what a sestina was before editing for Polyphony. Now, I barely ever write a poem that doesn’t include enjambment, and I’m much more willing to experiment with prosaic poetry forms like haibuns. Polyphony has expanded my writing vocabulary and even piqued my interest in writing fiction and creative nonfiction—I was strictly a poet until I read more Polyphony submissions and realized I had stories to tell in prose, too.
There’s so many little bits of wisdom you pick up along the way as an editor, whether it’s from reading a piece that you love and inspires you to write something similar, advice you get from a higher-level editor, or the general trial-and-error of learning how to read, analyze, and comment on other works. Whether you recognize it at first or not, the experience definitely influences your writing over time.
Daniel Boyko is an Editor-in-Chief at Polyphony Lit and a Blog Contributor Liaison at Voices.
Brooke Nind is a Senior Editor at Polyphony Lit and a Content Editor at Voices.