Are You an Editor’s Dream or Nightmare?

Let’s start with the assumption that we want our writing to get published. If you are that rare author who isn’t interested in publication, what the heck are you doing reading this post? Feel free to go back to your visionary world, and don’t forget to thank whoever is paying your bills.

As for the rest of us, let’s take a look at the  graphic for this post. (I know; very high-tech, right?) Any work that is going to get published has at least three moving parts.

  • My vision: what I intend my writing to say
  • My manuscript: what my writing actually says; unfortunately, they are not always the same
  • My editor: what my editor needs and wants my writing to do as part of an entire publication

The fact that there are three players here means that I have to let go of some control (or I will rarely, if ever, get published).

Here are some examples:

  • Editors may ask you to delete words, phrases, and lines. One editor I worked with asked if I would delete an entire stanza from a poem. (She said it would make the poem more powerful. She was right.)
  • Editors may ask you to add more. Once I wrote a piece exploring my feelings about a certain subject. The editor wanted more opinion. I added it, and ended up sounding more certain than I felt. But that’s what she was looking for, and that’s what got published.
  • Editors may suggest specific changes. In my experience, these suggestions almost always improve the piece, and only rarely affect the tone and meaning.
  • Editors may ask you to make revisions without telling you what they would like changed. I’m not sure what to make of this; I assume it’s some sort of test, and my current strategy is to get feedback from other writers and then cross my fingers (which feels a lot like marking all the A bubbles on a test, hoping to get at least some of them right). I’m half-tempted to send in the exact same piece with no changes at all and see what happens. (Dear Any-Editors-Who-Are-Reading-This: Just kidding! I’d only do that to other publications; never, ever to yours!)

There are two more kinds of changes I’ve encountered, and I would like to pause to point out that these changes can happen without your approval. That’s right; some editors will publish your piece with changes you didn’t know about. Crazy, right?

  • Some editors will change your title without asking. This has happened to me twice (out of only eight publishing credits to date; that’s 25% for those who spent all of your math classes writing comics). Once I preferred my original title; once the new title was much stronger.
  • Some editors will add/delete a line here and there without your prior knowledge. When I noticed this in one of my own pieces, though I wouldn’t have written the line myself, I understood why the editor added it; I was writing about something a little sketchy and the addition read like a now-you-can’t-sue-us-if-you’re-dumb-enough-to-try-this kind of maneuver.

Because editors are crucial to our work as writers, and because writing itself is so subjective, and because editors’ opinions and methods are so varied, it’s critical that we decide early on what our stance will be. How will you approach and work with editors, especially when they take to your writing with what feels more like an ax than a fine-toothed comb?

When I hear about editors’ main complaints, they are about the attitudes authors can exhibit. There are (apparently and appallingly) writers out there who are so convinced of the godlike qualities of their writing that they are inflexible. They don’t follow submission guidelines. They complain or whine about suggested revisions.

As writers, we can choose to be:

  • A prima donna (mainly inflexible)
  • A whiner (mainly flexible, but making sure the editor knows we are doing all the favors here)
  • A workhorse (mainly, and willingly, flexible)

I’m choosing #3 for sure. I’m saving my inflexible backbone for moments when I truly disagree with an editorial request. Why? Editors talk to each other! And if my wildest dreams (well, maybe my second or third wildest) come true, and some editor at some journal is talking to some other editor at some other journal and my name actually comes up, I really, really want the editor to say, “Oh, Dawn Claflin? Yeah, you should use her writing. She’s great to work with.”

So, because editors are going to monkey with your writing, I recommend you pick your approach now, before you’re asked to change a single word.

It’s just one more way to make your writing stand out. In a good way.


Working with Editors: How Writing for Magazines Can Improve Our Essays, Poems, and Fiction

Last week marked another first for me as a writer. Thus far, I’ve had personal essays and poems published (click here for a list), and now I can add magazine article to the list.

All of this is part of my journey of self-discovery: Am I a novelist? An essayist? A poet? A freelancer? An editor? A ghostwriter?

For many of us, the answer is yes. At this point in my career, I am keeping the focus on finishing my YA novel, but when my brain can’t take any more teenage drama, I turn to just about every other kind of writing as a way to keep working. As an author, I’m still trying to find my sea legs. I’m still looking for where I best fit in.

For me, the journey to having an article published was very different than having an essay or poem accepted. Here are the things I’ve learned through this process:

  • The time involved varies greatly. My initial pitch was accepted the day I sent it; once I sent my finished piece, I didn’t hear back for two months. Two different times I wrote emails asking, “When can I expect to hear back from you?” Thankfully, reason took over and I hit “delete” without sending them. Then again, once the piece had gone through revisions, it was published within two days.
  • Editors are more involved in editing and revisions. This makes sense; they are buying an unwritten article, as opposed to an essay or poem that they read before accepting. Therefore, I had to be willing to let the editors have a larger degree of control than I am used to.
  • At the same time, the piece still has my name on it. There were three times when I felt the need to push back on a suggested revision—and each time the editor accepted my position.
  • Working so closely with an editor can transform a piece. My original piece lacked all the things I love about my personal writing—it had absolutely zero voice—because I felt constrained by the word-count limit. The editor picked up on this right away and gave me suggestions for improving. Further, as we worked on the revisions, my editor came up with several phrases that I absolutely loved—words that felt like they must have been on the tip of my tongue but I just didn’t realize it. Finally, editors are masters at slashing unnecessary words and phrases. It was cool to watch her cut away at bits that I didn’t recognize were dead weight until they were gone.

All this to say, I’m grateful for this chance to work in a different genre, writing for a different audience, collaborating with magazine editors (thank you Natalie Singer-Velush and Beth Kramer). I am certain the experience will sharpen my writing in all of its forms.

And I’m looking forward to my next article!


Photo credit: April Killingsworth from Los Angeles, United States (Typewriter) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

New Publishing Clip at Parent Map

I’m so pleased! My first professional article (yes: I got paid!!!) just went live at Parent Map. “What to Read When You’re Expecting: Pick Your Pregnancy Book Personality” is a short review of thirteen books for expecting moms, written with a touch of my odd sense of  humor.  On Monday, I’ll share my experience with this milestone. For now, I’d be honored if you checked it out!

More Than a Literary Journal: An Interview with Mothers Always Write Editor Julianne Palumbo

As many of you know, Mothers Always Write (MAW) published my first piece. (You can read my post about what I learned from my first publication here.) For this reason, the journal holds an honored place in my heart. However, my relationship with MAW has become so much deeper: the editors have created a supportive and encouraging environment that includes a Facebook group, online feedback groups, and of course the relationships they develop with their contributors.

Because of all of this, I am privileged to share with you an interview with the Editor-in-Chief, Julianne Palumbo. Intrigued by MAW? Check out this positive write-up at The Review Review; at the end of the interview, you’ll find information about their current calls for submissions.

DC: Describe the inception of MAW.

JP: I founded MAW a year ago because I felt there was room for a publication that focused on mother writing from a literary point of view. As a writer, I found myself writing more and more about raising my children, and I loved to read the writing of other mother writers who were doing the same. I wanted to provide a place women could go to share their motherhood and their writing, a place to rest from their day. Soon after MAW was started, I was joined by our talented and generous editors who have contributed so much to the growth of MAW as a literary magazine of mother writing.

What kinds of work is MAW looking for?

MAW seeks literary essays that explore any facet of mothering. We don’t like to focus on the trendy; we avoid the judgmental; and we don’t look for how-to or listy pieces. We love free verse, non-rhyming poetry, with strong imagery and subtle message. We love when emotion is created through craft. What really gets us excited is a new point of view and well-edited writing.

What sets MAW apart from other similar publications?

I think there are two primary things that set MAW apart. First, we don’t focus on someone’s ideal of what motherhood should be but describe motherhood as it is. Second, what is important to us is serving our writers by providing encouragement, community, and promotion. Beneath our goal of providing high quality writing on a topic dear to us is the goal of uniting an otherwise often divided world through a common love for mothering our children and for writing.

You are a published author in addition to MAW’s founding editor. How did you get into writing in general, and editing MAW specifically?

I have always loved writing, and have written poetry since I was young. In college I studied English and journalism but went the route of law school. I further developed my writing as an attorney. Although legal writing is terse and restrictive, it provides good discipline because every word matters. The wrong word can easily get someone into trouble! I published legal and business articles as an attorney and did a lot of speaking. About ten years ago, I returned to creative writing. I have done a lot of editing as an attorney and then continued editing as a writing coach to teens.

What kinds of things do you write?

My first few years after I left law, I wrote a bunch of YA verse novels. Since then I’ve written short stories, essays and both adult and YA poetry. I am now writing a book about parenting poetically and have a bunch of poetry chapbooks in the works.

What’s your schedule like?

I spend about 40-50 hours a week on MAW. In doing so, I try to make sure that I take a couple of days each week just to work on writing and submitting my own writing. What I love about writing and creating MAW is that there is always something to be done and the work is so varied. I am used to working as an attorney and raising three children, so I am happiest having a lot to do. My youngest turns 18 in a week or so, and, while my children are still around, they need support in a different way. I find myself with time and energy to put into MAW, and it’s been really fun. I alternate my time between reading submissions, creating the month’s issue, promoting MAW, promoting our contributors, and curating book reviews and columns. There’s also the business of trying to earn income so that we can pay our writers—that is a big goal of mine, one that proves to be difficult as a literary journal.

How does your work as an editor help you now that you are writing and submitting your own work?

Working as an editor has clearly helped me to refine my ability to discern what a publication is looking for and to identify the differences between styles of writing. In this way, I’ve been able to streamline submissions of my own writing and be much more directed and efficient. I’ve also learned from reading the many talented writers that write for us. When you read so many beautifully written pieces, you are bound to learn something that can apply to your own writing. At the same time, I have learned much from my editors. They have a wonderfully discerning eye for good writing, and I enjoy reading their analysis of submitted pieces.

What advice would you like to give to authors when it comes to submitting their work?

Study the writing of writers you like. Dissect their poems and essays and figure out what it is that moves you. Definitely take the time to read a publication you are interested in. Each publication has its own voice, its preferences, its mission statement. These are important to glean before you submit. Also, revise your writing until it is perfect. Too many pieces are submitting that need editing and rejected because editors just don’t have enough time to edit them all.

Describe the ideal submission.

The ideal submission is one on a fresh topic with a new point of view. It contains all of the elements of literary writing and it has been fiercely edited. No publication will turn down a piece like this.

What has been the biggest surprise in creating MAW?

The biggest surprise from MAW is the reception it has received. We have writers and readers from all over the world. Our writers have been so incredibly generous and supportive of us. I could never have dreamed that such a warm, talented and supportive community would be created around MAW. It feels like so much more than a literary journal.


I couldn’t agree more. The writing community at MAW feels like friends, family. We celebrate our successes, we share our rejections and ask what went wrong, we share markets we’ve found that other writers might be interested in.

If you’re interested in being part of this creative, intelligent publication, please submit your work! They are accepting general and themed submissions: labels (May issue), awakening (June issue).

I look forward to reading your work on this lovely site!


When Doesn’t It Suck to Work during Vacation?

Here’s how I know writing is the right job for me:

I’m working while on vacation. And I’m glad.

Friday was my anniversary (#21!) and Erik and I spent hours walking around Seattle—to the market, around Lake Union, from downtown to Magnolia along the Elliot Bay Trail. We were both surprised by how restful it felt to walk five, ten, twelve miles in a day. We left our car at home, in Burien, and our rule for the weekend was simple: public transportation or feet. I highly recommend this; you’ll see from the photos what a lovely experience this was.

But now it’s Monday, and it’s time to get to work.

However, some friends gifted us with a week using their time-share on Lake Chelan (shout-out to The Phenomenal Becks!). So, here were my choices:

  • Bring no writing, and bust my rear when we get back to meet a deadline I have with an editor
  • Bring no writing, and ask the editor for an extension (which she’d probably be willing to give me)
  • Bring my writing and work here, on the gorgeous banks of Lake Chelan.

What amazed me was how easily #3 rose to the top. I love my job and get a little twitchy if I’m away from it for too long. I need to write. So it’s really no struggle to sit here working for a few hours instead of swimming, or napping, or going for a walk.

Plus, have you seen the view from my office today?