How can editing help you write? 

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Welcome back to our interview with writer and The Subtopian editor Trevor D. Richardson. Last week, we talked about the writing process, networking, expanding your skill-set, and submitting your work. In part two, Trevor talks about how writers can learn editing skills and what they can learn from editing.

Josh Flynn: What are the key skills needed to be a good editor? How did you develop those skills?

subtopian bookTrevor Richardson: Well, the jury is still out on me being a good editor, but I try to tell people that I’m a writer first and an editor second. I can look at something that my editorial eye says is grammatically incorrect, but the writer’s eye recognises as an artistic choice. To that end, I make very little changes to the work we take on at The Subtopian. I try to preserve the writer’s original intent and will only offer suggestions if the writer in me sees a problem or a potential missed opportunity in the narrative.

I developed the skills of being an editor by publishing my books. Nothing could be a greater crash course in English than going through your own words, line by line, comma by comma, and fixing all of your mistakes. You start to learn why the Oxford comma matters, or why you put a comma after an introductory statement, and you learn it by doing rather than listening to lectures or doing homework assignments (as a college dropout, this is something I’ve always been terrible at…).

But to put it simply, most creative writers break the rules, and being an editor means developing the discernment to tell what is a mistake and what is part of the character’s voice. The best way to do this is to learn what rules you simply must not break, ever. Commas are a big one. No matter what kind of dialect or character your writer is coming from, there is no way to reconcile “Let’s eat, Grandma!” against “Let’s eat Grandma!”

Learn your commas, but almost everything else is up for debate. Semicolons can be thrown out in favour of dashes or starting a new sentence. You can use caps or not if you have a good reason. You can spell wrong, write in an accent like Irvine Welsh, or make up words all day long, but a comma is the difference between telling your grandmother it’s time to eat or telling your family it’s time for a cannibalistic feast on your father’s mother.

Josh: How has working as an editor helped your own writing?

Trevor: It goes back to that strength training thing. In finding the technical mistakes of other people’s writing I have become much more familiar with the rules and am able to spend a lot less time thinking about it while telling my own stories. I still make mistakes, sure, but I make much fewer and am able to write with greater precision and with greater rapidity. Being a writer makes me more imaginative, but being an editor makes me much more efficient. You need both if you’re going to be a good storyteller.

Thanks for joining us for part two of our interview series with Trevor D. Richardson. If you missed the first part of this interview, where we discussed how writers get their foot in the publisher’s door, click here to read it.

Join us next time as Richardson shares the storytelling value of Star Trek and Star Wars.


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A writer and journalist, Josh Flynn is Mash Stories’s official journalist and one of the main blog writers. His essays, stories, and articles have appeared in The Indianapolis Star, Nuvo Newsweekly, Slam Magazine, genesisNerdSpan, and Punchnel’s. You can follow him on Twitter at @joshflynn.