Editor Interview #2: A. Victoria MixonPosted: February 16, 2011
A. Victoria Mixon, is a professional writer and independent editor with over thirty years’ experience in both fiction and nonfiction.
She is the coauthor of Children and the Internet: A Zen Guide for Parents and Educators and author of The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual. She can be reached through her blog, her Editing Services, and Twitter.
- What is it about editing that drew you to it?
I got into editing as a teenager—I was the editor of my school newspaper for three years in the 1970s, and being from a highly-literate family I took the dictum of editing quite seriously. Now I’ve got the Red Pencil in my blood.
I love this work. I just do. I’ve been revising and reworking my own manuscripts for thirty years, and being able to apply those skills that cost me such blood to learn to the manuscripts of other writers—being able to see them snap into focus so easily, without all those months and years of agony—is just a godsend. I could do this forever. I love the writers. I love the hope and innocence and creativity and charm of them. My clients are wonderful people to know.
- What character/personality trait, if any, do you believe is necessary to edit well?
Profound love of the craft. Undying respect for the infinity of the written word, and indefensible hope in its potential. You know you’re never going to be as good as you can possibly be. Communicating telepathically through the written word is an impossible task. But you can try.
You need to understand the complexity of what you’re tackling. Editing involves not only copy editing—correcting for grammar and punctuation—but also developmental editing—proper structure—and, finally, that most delicate and difficult of all crafts to teach, line editing for beautiful prose. It took me six months to teach myself proper developmental editing, and copy editing can be learned in a week out of the right books, with the right attitude. But line editing is closer to an art. It takes years and years of dedicated study and practice.
Also, you need a really good sense of humor grounded in deep compassion. Nobody’s born knowing how to either write or edit, and they are different skills and must be learned both separately and in conjunction. But a great sense of humor and great kindness for the human animal are essential prerequisites to any type of fulfilling life—I just happen to find writing and editing to be the most fulfilling of all lifestyles.
- What’s the most common mistake you find when you edit?
Underestimation of just how much time and labor goes into writing a book. The world is awash in new aspiring writers these days—truly, almost floating away on it—and they are all relentlessly encouraged by the marketing aspect of the publishing industry to believe they, too, can win the Great Fiction Lottery of Fame and Fortune. It’s completely stupid. But it’s what we have.
So these innocents come to me in all good faith with manuscripts on which they have poured their blood, sweat, and tears for, really, not nearly long enough, sincerely hoping they are ready for the bigtime. I’m as compassionate as I can be about breaking the news, but they are discouraged and sometimes quite crushed to learn just how much goes into writing a good book. The marketers didn’t say it was going to be this hard!
All I can do is keep teaching them, kindly and patiently, step-by-step, what they need to learn in order to succeed at this craft. Yes, it takes a very long time. Yes, as Flannery O’Connor said, “It will make your hair turn grey and your teeth fall out.” Jean Rhys was a recluse in her sixties when her jewel-like early novels were rediscovered, leading to her gorgeous final novel, Wide Sargasso Sea.
You have to take the time.
- What advice would you give aspiring editors or beginning writers?
Aspiring editors? Editing is a very specific skill set, related to writing but not limited to it. It involves enormous amounts of study of the craft of fiction—in-depth analysis of dozens of the greats, developmental and line issues as well as the history of copy issues in the language in which you work—as well as some grounding in psychology and therapeutic techniques. Critiquers are not editors. Even wonderful writers are not necessarily editors. If you want to edit, learn what a really good editor does so you can model yourself on them. Apprentice yourself to someone you trust until they say you’re ready. Sham editors, like unqualified self-publishers, give the entire industry a bad name. Don’t be one of them.
Beginning writers? Focus on the craft. Block out the marketing hype about getting yourself published. It’s not going to happen like a gamble, the way they say it will, and your failure to make that occur will heap burdens upon your shoulders that will eventually poison your love of writing in general. Tune them out.
Focus on the task of getting your world down in clean, clear words. Do it because you love it. Make friends with other writers whose work you love. This is your life.
- Would you share your favorite editing resources with us (books, web sites, conferences, etc.)?
Well, of course, I have my new book, The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual. That’s the basics of what aspiring writers need to know about becoming writers. I’m working on the sequel, which goes much more in-depth, and workbooks to go with them. I have an online magazine full of the material for the sequel. I also maintain my blog so aspiring writers who can’t afford either an editor or any of the rest of it can still get good guidance, and I maintain my advice column so you can ask questions and get freebie answers.Personally, I’ve been reading Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners for twenty years, and I still find solace in it. Everyone cites John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist, which is a long-standing classic. But my biggest resource is the great writers. Don’t waste your time reading too much modern stuff that’s been shoved through the publication mill as fast as humanly possible. Study the classics: Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Graham Greene, Camus, Isak Denison, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, James Thurber, Paul Bowles, Jane Bowles, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Chandler, John Gardner. I just finished reading Anthony Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds. I read tons of vintage mystery, analyzing plot structure and scene. Find clean, clear, high-tension craft and read it. Learn why it works.
- Anything else you’d like to add regarding editing?
This is the best time in my entire life to be an independent editor. I am honored to be a part of the history of publishing at this juncture. If I’d tried to do this twenty years ago, I’d have had to move to New York City and spend my day in an office. I don’t want to live in New York City. And I’ve done my time in offices. Now I get to sit by my kitchen fire applying my decades of skills to beautiful, riveting, exciting manuscripts—becoming friends with wonderful writers from all walks of life and all levels of experience. This is my dream job. And I get to work it.How lucky am I?
Thank you, Victoria, for taking the time to do our second editor interview. I know I learned a thing or two, and I’m sure our readers did too. Tell me I’m right in the comments folks.