Writing Advice from an Editor

Ellen Datlow is a highly awarded, respected and experienced editor in the field of speculative fiction. Many prominent writers have been edited by her, including the likes of Stephen King. She was recently interviewed while in Australia as an international guest of honour at the National Science Fiction Convention (Conflux conference in Canberra). A part of the interview has been published on the ABC News Arts and Entertainment column.

In the interview Ellen gave some important advice for aspiring writers of short stories in general, not just in the speculative fiction genre.

“One thing writers must do is keep sending out stories, you can’t sit and wait, you can’t send one story out and wait and see what the response is,” she said.

“Keep writing, keep producing, write many stories – send them out and then write another.

This is an area where I need to improve – vastly improve. My mother misnamed me. My middle name should be “procrastinate.” I busy myself with so many non-productive tasks that the real business of writing gets neglected. Publishers are loathe to come knocking on your door demanding your next story – unless you have a name like Stephen King et al.

Write, write, write and send those stories out. Then get back to writing and send some more out. Then, if you have say, fifteen stories out there being considered, and one rejection letter comes back, you still have fourteen “live” stories. Then dry the tears, and send out the rejected story to someone else with hopefully better judgment than the editor who just rejected your story. And keep on writing.

This is one of the reason I love blogging. One is “published” immediately with a potential world-wide audience. Then there is the wonderful feedback from readers in the comments section. A simple, cheap dialogue with readers is now available, giving one a closer sense of community with one’s readers.

A final piece of advice from Ellen concerns the writer’s voice.

“Develop your own voice – I think a lot of young writers think they’re doing something new but there aren’t that many new ideas. It’s the way the idea is approached. That’s much more important than a new idea, whether in science fiction, fantasy or horror.”

This is not as easy to do. Getting a new slant on an old theme, or a well worn story line takes thought, creativity, inspiration and hard work.


2 Responses to “Writing Advice from an Editor”

  1. Richard says:

    Getting a new slant isn’t easy, but necessary. My wife and I own a small movie theatre. We run about 48 movies each year. This added to my recreational viewing adds up to a lot of movies. There aren’t that many totally different stories. How the story is told makes all the difference in the world.

  2. Trevor says:

    You are so right. I must admit that sometimes when viewing a movie for the first time I catch myself analysing the story line – instead of just going along for the ride. The writer in me rises to the surface, to the detriment of just enjoying the movie. Hard to switch off sometimes, isn’t it? I don’t get to watch many movies these days – not as many as you do. My daughter would envy you – she sees almost every new film released and has an enviable DVD collection. We enjoy visiting her (2 hours away) and always get to see one or two new movies whenever we stay there.