Getting your work edited can be scary, especially when you're new to publishing. Will they like it? Will they think it's good enough? What if they don't like my style? These are some of the questions that plague us. We decided to do an interview with an editor/author to help overcome some of those fears and even misconceptions about editors. Come with us as we learn from Faith Sommers on how to help our creative writing students.
1. Please introduce yourself and your family.
Paul and I were married in 1993, and God blessed us with six children, four boys, two girls. Two are married, and we have one granddaughter. Some of the children enjoy words, actually we all do (reading, hearing and speaking...) but only a few of us enjoy writing. I like crafts, painting, sewing, and oh yes, writing. My family is creative, imaginative, and we all love people. Life is never dull, and we love life in God's Beautiful West. We host company often and cherish our friendships.
2. What is your journey as an author?
From the time I could hold a pencil, I have always loved to write. My mom gave me a diary for my twelfth birthday, and soon I was journaling too. I had spare time in eighth grade, so my teacher gave me ideas to write about. I remember a detailed and illustrated essay on beavers, and of course, writing about what I wanted to be when I grow up. I had dreams of a little cabin in the mountains, writing in solitude whenever I wanted. The reality doesn't look at all like that. I didn't write much besides letters and journals when the children were little. I love writing outside, at a little table on the front porch, and I love saving my Tuesdays to write...but sometimes that's also just a dream.
Teaching school also helped set the foundation, and joining writer's groups was an amazing way to improve my scribbles. Paul doesn't like to write, (even in cards) but he is very supportive, and years ago he gifted me a writer's course, which was a huge help.
3. What are things to remember as an aspiring author?
Write. Write. Write. Journals, letters, even grocery lists. Just write. We often learn by doing. Oh, and read. Read a lot. When I see a sentence that thrills me, I write it in a notebook to savor later, and to help me brainstorm how I can write in a “fresher” way. Although don't try to copy someone else's style.
Live fully, not just immersed in books. Life is real. Being with people is how we learn. Write about things you know about, things you experience and see. It's good to have a hobby that's completely different, one that gets you active and involved, and gives you ideas. Don't bury your talent. If you feel a burden to write, accept it as from God and seek to hone your ability to honor Him and to spread His love and Word.
Accept advice. Don't just scribble a story and send it to a publication, expecting it to be accepted. Let someone else read your writing and offer suggestions. Read your stories out loud. Join a writer's group if possible or find someone (a beta reader perhaps) to help you. Humbly learn from other's insights and critiquing. Listen to your editor.
God is the Author of words. Pray always. Study the Bible. Let God write through you, don't write to air your own ideas and complaints. Thank Him for life and the opportunity to live and to write.
4. What genre do you enjoy writing?
I love writing anything except poetry. (Oh, I have written a few awkward poems but it never goes well, no matter how much I love reading poetry.) Devotionals flow easier than stories, but I find I need the discipline of creating realistic dialogue, setting, plot, focus and viewpoint. Write what comes for you.
5. What have you had published?
I've written several books: A Bushel of Memories, Carlisle Press; Helping Mama, CLP (no longer in print); Daniel Learns About the Five Senses, Rod and Staff; Prayers for a Simpler Life, Herald Press. I've also had many freelance stories/articles printed “all over” as well as "Streams in the Desert" column for Ladies Journal.
6. As an editor, what are two things you wish writers knew?
Editors aren't “out to get you.” They want an inspiring, informative, publishable piece as much as you do. Naturally they prefer a clean, well-written story, with most of the rough spots ironed out already. They also love an old subject written with a new angle.
Read the publication you're writing for. Ask for writer's guidelines, and follow them. If you or a friend does as much editing as possible before you submit the manuscript, the editor is more likely to accept your story. If your manuscript is 200 words over the limit, what is an editor to do? Cut it down yourself because how will he know the paragraph he deleted was your favorite? The completed manuscript should still “be you.” If something he omitted really matters to you, say so graciously, but be willing to hear the editor, and try to understand their counsel.
You're a team. It's not you against them. Work together. You'll be amazed how well that works, and how you can improve your style by taking counsel.
7. How can teachers help students get used to editors editing their work?
Occasionally my children ask me to edit their compositions. I tell them it's the little details that make a difference in their articles being accepted or not. It's similar to any other work. The first dress you sew might not be wearable, your first cake inedible, your first birdhouse may end up on the scrap pile. Help them understand that they will never improve if they are unwilling to take advice so be humble. The editor lends you his time and effort because he wants to help so be grateful. Remind them that even seasoned writers need an editor.
It's just words. They aren't attacking you as a person. Maybe you're horrified to see red marks all throughout the pages, and it makes you cry. Put it away, and read it later when you are calmer. Read the comments and try to understand why they edited in that way. Remember we rarely write a excellent story the first time we try. Sometimes not even the third time. I have a few pieces that have been edited and rewritten so often, they ended up in the scrap pile because they no longer sound anything like I wanted. Sometimes I completely start over with a fresh sheet of paper. Other times, I decide the discipline of writing was the lesson learned.
8. What are three ways anyone can improve their writing skills?
One way to improve your style is by using helps such as a dictionary, thesaurus, reference manual, or English handbook. There are many good writing helps; borrow from a writer's library if you don't know where to start.
Another is by reading your story out loud, to yourself and to someone else. Preferably not your best friend or favorite aunt because you want honest counsel, not just a commendation. Have someone read it to you. Listen with a critical ear. Be open to changes.
Set your precious manuscript aside for a few days or weeks. Then read it more critically, pretending someone else wrote it. Sometimes you will discover how unclear a concept was, or how oddly you worded something. Sometimes my final draft bears little resemblance to the first.
9. What do you do to deal with writer’s block?
What's that? Words don't always flow as I wish, but I can't “not write.” And even in fumbling attempts, when my fingers and brain are slow, if I start praying and writing, God is there to help. Sometimes I write a few words, then set it aside. When I try again the next day or so I am often amazed how well the words fit. God cares, and He helps us succeed in all He calls us to do.
When I feel unmotivated, reading a storybook can trigger the imagination and spark the urge to write. Sometimes I will write a letter to a friend, and suddenly I realize I want to write a story about the incident.
10. What are three resources that give you inspiration in your writing?
Life. Life is fluid and exciting. When I am outdoors I watch wildlife and birds. Last week I watched a wren try so hard to build a nest in a gourd occupied by a tufted titmouse. I could write a story about that. What about the dogs, cows, chickens, deer and turkeys on our property? There's so much inspiration in God's creation of the flowers, trees, ocean, sky, and weather.
People. They are so interesting and inspiring. I love observing people of all ages, how they interact with each other, how they respond to decisions, troubles, or exciting events. I might find a story when I am in the grocery store, the airport, or even by listening to a niece's conversation.
God's Word. Personal study, sermons, even a Sunday School lesson can plant a seed. He is always teaching us lessons, if we're alert to receive them.
I jot down the ideas I find, things that interest me, or the Bible passage I want to write about. When I have time to write a story, I pull out the suggestions and see what triggers my imagination.
11. What is a word of encouragement for creative writing teachers?
Be excited and enthused. Bring plenty of ideas to the class, and help your students brainstorm. Don't just assign a project and let them muddle along without your involvement every time. For awhile I had a bulletin board with little boxes stapled to the board, and the students could take a paper from the box of their choice. Box titles: “If I were...” (Each slip inside had an entire sentence, like If I were able to fly.) “Story starters...” “If I had....” “Pet Peeves...” “Favorite Way to Spend a Free Day,” etc.
Be patient. Everyone started somewhere. Writing doesn't come naturally to some people. They must work hard at it. Don't expect the person, like my husband who is a talented carpenter and boss, to write an excellent story. Yes, the discipline is good for each student, but every composition doesn't need to sound like the teacher's guide.
Encourage the budding writer to keep on; show them how to improve, and provide books to aid them in their writing, and pray about how you can help. Tell their parents if you're seeing a beginning author, and encourage them with ways to support the child.
Don't flatter, but do bless the efforts of each one. I am deeply indebted to mentors who cared enough to give praise and criticism in my beginning as a writer.
The team at Creative Word Studio would like to thank Faith for taking the time to do an interview with us. We would like to encourage our audience as you look to the coming year to prepare ways to encourage your own budding authors. Blessings ~ Andrew Yoder