and that’s a good thing.

Recently and while immersed at a writers’ conference for 6 days, I taught what I know about the craft and business of writing to writers at every stage of literary development and as always, the time I spent at this conference got me thinking about my own literary development. Facilitating workshops at this conference does that to me, a conference I call my literary home, a conference that played a significant role in cultivating my writer’s voice. While my internal monologue had been with me since early adolescence, immersing myself into this community of writers and editors helped me flesh out my voice. Feedback from editors kept me company on those post-conference days when my biggest doubts about writing plagued me.

Immersing yourself in a literary milieu is humbling, even for the best scribes among us. It’s in these environments that writers learn the art of editing and revision. Not always but often the instruction comes from conference workshop leaders. At one time, workshops within these word-fest focused communities were almost always moderated by editors retired from major publishing houses, seasoned editors who spent weeks of their retirement years working with writers eager to be schooled by them. Before the arrival of the internet, this was a common model at writers conferences, learning centers and workshops. The editors that influenced me came from this model.

Sometimes, the retired gentlemen from this tribe, yes, mostly gentlemen, also wrote stories. Some got them published but that was not a requirement to become an editor, more of an aside. Many editors of this era had no publications to their credit at all. That wasn’t their job. Their job was assessing #storytelling.

Here’s where understanding our history, the etiology of publishing, helps writers keep the craft we are learning in context. I recommend reading Max Perkins, Editor of Genius, a marvelous National Book Award winning biography by A. Scott Berg about the godfather of editors who for decades stood at the helm of  Scribners. Mr. Perkins was a visionary who spotted talent and brought great American authors into the literary scene; Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway among them. So many of America’s greatest authors owed their careers to Max Perkins. Yet he was not a writer. He was an editor who served as a role model for younger editors.

My mentors, most of them, were of this kind; experienced and often revered editors. Since writing was my second career, I didn’t have the advantage so many who began studying storytelling as undergraduates had, nor did I aspire to know what they knew from their in-depth study of craft. But I have expected myself to write to the outer edges of the craft I do know. And I expect myself to keep learning.

When assessing an editor’s worth, I encourage writers not to include a potential editor’s published works. You may be disappointed. I worked with two noted editors, both retired from NYC publishing where they spent decades honing their craft, the craft of editing. Only after working with them both did I purchase a novel one had written in his senior years. I was disappointed and glad I had not read it during my years of workshopping my stories with him. It might have influenced me.

I know so much has changed within publishing, but I don’t think some things should. Getting your work vetted by competent editors should not be short shifted just because we have platforms that turn us into authors with one upload. An editor’s worth, regardless of their own ‘storytelling chops,’ is invaluable to your process of producing the best possible story you are capable of crafting.

The business of publishing is in a radical shift, but this writer/author hopes some things won’t radically shift and crafting the best stories writers are capable of crafting tops my list.

Marla Miller’s latest work of fiction debuts FALL, 2024, SweetSpot: Now and Then

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