Write, edit, revise.
This is the student mantra. As far as academic advice goes, it’s pretty universal. Since becoming a graduate student at Duquesne, however, my perspective on the process has changed; my priorities are different.
As an undergraduate student, I believed the most important part of the writing process was writing the actual draft. Since becoming more aware of my own writing process (Thank you, Dr. Purdy, for all your in-class reflections!) during my graduate career, my focus has changed.
Now, I allow myself to write terrible first drafts because I realize I write better with low expectations. After writing the first draft, I then go back and spend the majority of my time making sense of and revising the nonsense that somehow made it onto the page. I have learned the value and the necessity of editing. This is probably why I have come to enjoy editing so much.
It’s no surprise then, that editing manuscripts is one of my favorite parts of interning at Autumn House Press. I love offering suggestions to writers because I know the editing process is what truly transforms the manuscript into something memorable.
There is a great satisfaction that comes from helping writers. One of the most enjoyable parts of editing, however, is that its positive effects are reciprocal. Some people say that editing other writers’ work drains their creative energy. I’m the exact opposite. Duquesne has prepared me to read as an editor and because I go into any given piece looking for ways to improve the draft, I am also simultaneously hyperaware of improving my own writing.
Just recently I read the winning manuscript from Autumn House’s previous Fiction contest. I fell in love with it immediately; the writer has an astounding handle on voice and is able to write characters that are both extremely quirky and extremely relatable. And her prose! I was so lost in her words that I didn’t even realize my time at the office was up until the Editor-in-Chief called me over.
What I want to emphasize is this: being a graduate student at Duquesne has inspired me to read critically and reflectively. Reading is no longer just a matter of asking what do I like about this story? but also, why do I like it? What can I learn from it?
In the graduate classroom, I read critically because I am constantly seeking new ways to dissect a text. As an editor at Autumn House, I read critically because I want to improve the author’s manuscript, sure, but also because I want to improvemywriting.
I constantly note the flaws other writers make— their unconscious reliance on passive voice, their overuse of commas, their abrupt tense shifts, and overdramatic dialogue tags (this is one of my biggest pet peeves as an editor!)— and I now realize when and where those same mistakes occur in my writing.
It’s as they say: you learn from doing. In this case though, there’s a lot to be gained from reading with writing in mind. Since becoming a graduate student at Duquesne, I’ve become a lot more aware of this in general. Now, even if I read a story I really dislike, I ask myself: why? And then: What could I do better?
I have my education at Duquesne to thank for this more hyperaware approach to editing, but my experiences at Autumn House have taught me how to use that hyperawareness as a framework for my creative writing.
As a writer, I think write, edit, revise.
As an editor, I think edit, revise, write.
Because at the end of the day, editing is just as much an act of self-discovery as writing is, even when those edits are being made on a different manuscript!
— Chelsea Abdullah