I worked for a literary magazine called the Chiron Review for a lot of years. I was one of two fiction editors, brought in for the last 10 years of its 30 year run. It was a literary magazine distributed fairly widely. We had a devoted readership and I had been a huge fan for years before they asked me to be a part of it. The fact that they published me was one of those things that I counted as proof that I was a real writer.
I think it’s a good experience for any writer to be an editor of some kind. It taught me a lot of things not to do, but more importantly, it gave me a renewed sense of the magic of being a writer.
I have all the horror stories that everyone else has of writers who made terrible choices about what to send us or what to say in their letters, but those things never really bothered me the way it bothers other editors. What I mostly was reminded of when I got those letters was how isolated writers feel all of the time. They don’t know how to write the letter because they’re not a part of a larger community, and finding that community often seems difficult when people are first starting out.
Most of what I saw excited me. It reminded me of how thrilling it was and is to be a writer.
I was always eager to accept something into the magazine. It had been my dream to be included in Chiron for years, and I knew it was the same for a lot of people.
What I often enjoyed most though was when I got a story from someone who was starting out and had written something interesting, but it wasn’t right for one reason or another. I loved writing to those people, giving advice, maybe suggesting a revise and resubmit. The first time I did that, I assumed I was going to offend the writer. And I know that I offended a couple of people. For the most part, however, when I got a response people were excited. It reminded me of how good it had felt when I was starting out and had gotten my first bits of encouragement.
I wrote to one really promising writer. Her story hadn’t fit, but she had a great voice. I told her so and asked her to send another story if she wanted to. In her excitement, she misunderstood and sent me 7 stories.
That was all right. That was great. It hadn’t been what I asked for, but it reminded me of one of the reasons I wrote, and the biggest reason I sent out my work to magazines. The idea that my story was going to be read by other people, that my story might touch another person was magic, and that writer showed me exactly how magic it could be.
One of her stories hit, and we published her. I don’t know what her name is. I’ve forgotten, but I hope she’s having the kind of career I think she is capable of. Her work touched me and her work ethic did too. I’m a better writer and person for being an editor. I think it’s something all writers should do.