Reading as a Writer vs. Reading as an Editor: How are They Different?

Posted by Emma Corwin, Fiction Reader for issue 6.1

About a week into reading submissions for the upcoming issue of Gandy Dancer, I noticed how different, and sometimes challenging, it is to think with the mind of an editor. Having taken multiple writing workshops since starting college, I anticipated that reading for Gandy Dancer would be similar. Although there are certainly similarities between the two, there are also a few things about editing that I hadn’t considered.

In workshops, I would read my classmates’ writing thinking, this is a first/second draft and what suggestions can I make to help improve this in its next draft? Now I’m reading pieces that are not first drafts. As an editor, I must ask questions like, “is this publishable?” “Is it close?” “How can this be changed to make it publishable?” As I read, I ask myself why I like a piece. Why? Because it’s well written and interesting. How? What makes it interesting? I need to look for reasons behind how I feel about a piece and understand how the writing works to have that effect on me. While these are things I’ve had to consider in workshops also, reading the submissions while knowing I have to choose which among them should go in the journal adds new meaning to these questions. It’s a different kind of responsibility.

When reading submissions, I’ve found it challenging to remember that our goal is to find the best writing defined by:

  • What’s ready for publishing now–some of the pieces we’ve read have been enjoyable and have lots of potential, but require more substantial revising.
  • What’s best suited for Gandy Dancer specifically–sometimes we come across a piece that doesn’t quite fit in our literary journal, though we might be able to see it working elsewhere.
  • What is not always going to be my “favorite”–we’ve had a few pieces that some of us liked for no special reason, even though we knew they wouldn’t work. The piece would be interesting, but not written clearly; or it might be beautifully written, but not tell enough of what the reader needed to know.

I was surprised about how interesting it was to read stories written by people I know nothing about. It’s different from reading self-published stories on writing websites such as Wattpad, or from reading pieces by classmates whom I get to know through their writing all semester. Reading for Gandy Dancer feels like having writers entrusting a hidden piece of themselves with you. After all, they are handing you something they poured their heart into, knowing full well that you have the power to turn it down. Having a say in whether a piece is accepted or not is both exciting and difficult.

As a former contributor of issue 5.2, I know exactly what it’s like to be on that side. I know how discouraging it is to have something you consider a part of you rejected, and how thrilling it is to learn that even just a short piece you created is worth putting out there for others to read. These are things I keep thinking about when reading the submissions; that there are writers waiting to hear what we think. What’s hard for me on the editing side of this process – and is another thing I didn’t expect – is that many of the pieces I enjoyed won’t make the cut. Some of my personal favorites have wonderful qualities and grabbed my attention, but still need a lot of work before they are ready for publishing. I am truly grateful to all our submitters this semester for sharing their work with us, and hope they keep writing.

Being on staff for Gandy Dancer is different than I imagined, and I’m glad it is. It’s a valuable experience for a writer. It has given me a glimpse of the side of literary journals I’ve been curious about. As I continue to submit my work to other journals, it’ll be helpful to have an idea of what the editors look for, and what kinds of decisions they must make for a successful journal.

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