Control

We all do things that help us feel in control of our lives. Some are tiny habits we may not even be aware of. One of the ways I feel in control is having plans in place. When I was little, these plans consisted of ways I would keep my younger siblings safe. I’ve mentioned this before in other blog posts.

When I was nine years old I had a plan in place to protect the siblings from the birds, for example. I would cram us into this tiny half-bathroom we had because there were no windows. I could put rolled up towels at the base of the door so nothing could come underneath. We’d have a toilet and water from the sink. We’d be safe.

Nine years old.

I had plans for what I would do when volcanoes erupted in my back yard, when dinosaurs came up over the horizon, when the atom bomb fell, and if a day came when mom and dad never came home.

These days my plans are a little more realistic. I’ve finally reached the age where I’m pretty sure dinosaurs aren’t going to come back and eat us.

This need to have plans in place slides over into a need to have a full pantry, like I’ve also mentioned here before. I need to feel stocked up.

Social media over the past few years has become difficult for me. It seems like there is so much hatred out there, and like people have been given a free pass to say whatever they want behind the computer screen.

To save my sanity, I started filling my social media with posts from groups I joined. I am a member now in groups about birds and rocks and foraging and canning and earthquakes and crocheting and…you get the idea.

I joined a group about stocking up and that one has turned out to be a mistake.

First, there’s a fine line between being prepared and being paranoid. Between being stocked up and being a hoarder.

Second, there’s a moral debate between how much one stocks up. Do you plan on feeding just your family, or do you hope to be able to help your community?

Third, there is a level of paranoia (unless you’re a serious pepper and then it’s not paranoia at all). Some people post photos of their lovely pantries and others will jump on them for using their real name, showing everyone what they have, and even listing the areas they live, saying that they make themselves targets for when the shit hits the fan.

And fourth, I realized this group starts me spiraling out of control. I see what others are doing to be prepared and that low-level panic deep inside begins to stir.

Flour! Oh my god, I only have one bag. These people are buying cans of grain to make their own flower, or growing grains, because when it gets bad, how will you bake bread when your single bag of flour runs out? I NEED cans of grains!

Medical supplies, five-gallon buckets of dehydrated meals, how to dig out a root cellar to keep things cold when there’s no refrigeration, salt and alcohol to barter with…

All these posts make me feel woefully unprepared, at risk, scared, and worried.

Here’s the thing. In reality, we’re fine. My brain knows that. We’re fine.

But that little child afraid of dinosaurs is down there frantic because there is no plan.

So what is my plan?

I’m quitting that stocking up group.

I’ve learned it’s not a match for me because instead of giving me great ideas, it’s giving me nightmares.

I’m going to qualify that statement though. One of the siblings I protected from erupting volcanoes is also in the same group. I told her she has to be my spy. I want her to pass on to me the good ideas. That way I can still benefit from the group without having nightmares.

Otherwise my poor husband is going to have to start digging out that root cellar.

The Art of Editing

Before COVID-19 changed all our lives, I facilitated a writer’s group and one of the members was Riley Pettyjohn. Besides writing, she was also taking an editing course and I’m pleased to introduce everyone to our newest certified editor.

Tell me a bit about the process you went through to become an editor.

At first, I wasn’t really sure how to go about getting into editing and publishing as a profession. While I was reading up on some other editors’ beginnings, I found the Editing Certificate course that the UW Professional & Continuing Education offers. So, I enrolled in November of 2019 and received my certificate early this December. The course was great—not only for editors, but writers, too! There are three consecutive classes you take in order to complete the program, each one focusing on a specific type of editing. The panel of instructors are all very knowledgeable and helpful in their editing specialties. One instructor, Ingrid Emerick, is a co-founder and CEO of a small self-publishing company in Seattle called Girl Friday Productions (GFP). She encouraged me to apply for their internship program. I was an Editorial Intern with GFP for about four months. Through the internship I got some real-world experience with the tasks of editors and was able to meet with several people from the various departments at GFP. It was the advice from my instructors in the editing course and the people of GFP that helped me to formulate my next steps as a new editor. I also just recently joined the Northwest Editors Guild and am a freelance editor there, but I’m still building my career.

How did COVID-19 impact you during this process?

I was extremely lucky that I had already opted for the online and self-paced version of the editing course back in 2019, so my schooling schedule was completely unaffected by COVID. But, sadly, my internship with GFP would have been in person had it not been for COVID. So, I missed out on that part of the experience. Luckily, I was able to use Zoom for meetings, and all my tasks were able to be done over the internet. I may have met even more people this way than I would have in person since some of the meetings I had were with people who worked out of state. So, there’s a silver lining to everything.

You are also a writer. How do you incorporate your editing skills into writing?

I think all this new knowledge of the editing process makes me look at writing differently than I did before; I have a more technical perspective. I think it’s helped make my writing more concise and easier to read when I look over it again. But my familiarity with The Chicago Manual of Style has sort of slowed my writing pace because I put more thought into the punctuation I’m using and the different rules I choose to follow as I write.

Do you find yourself editing as you write?

I do edit as I write. I try not to do it too much so that the thoughts can flow, then go back and clean it up. But I can get so caught up with trying to make everything perfect the first time around. I find myself reading over a line I just wrote a billion times, asking myself if it looks right. Meanwhile, my train of thought has been totally derailed. I even find myself editing my shopping lists. So, it’s a balance that I’m working on finding.

What do you think is the most important thing in a relationship between a writer and an editor, besides the obvious need for trust?

I think being flexible and open is really important on both sides, especially if an editor is working directly with an author. If both parties are willing to have an open discussion about the project they’re working on—to really listen and work together—everything will run pretty smoothly. 

There are a lot of editors who set specific standards, such as only Christian, certain genres, non-fiction, no poetry, etc. Do you anticipate doing something similar, and why, or why not?

Because I’m so new at it, I don’t really have specific things I won’t do yet. I’d like to try my hand at a lot of things, to keep my range broad and stay challenged. That said, my favorite things to work on so far have been novels, particularly fiction. I just love to be a part of bringing a story to life. And on the opposite end, while I enjoy reading it, I don’t see myself editing a lot of poetry.

On a similar note, is there a specific genre or type of writing that you find harder to edit than others?

I do find poetry to be hard for me. There are just so many more artistic aspects that need to be considered, and I’m unfamiliar with the technical styles involved. I also find extremely technical or scientific academic papers and textbook materials to be more challenging.

When did you first realize you were a storyteller?

I began writing as soon as I learned how; I don’t even remember the first time. I used to spend hours at my parents’ computer or with a notebook, typing or scribbling fairy stories. I was a chronic daydreamer—still am. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always “A writer.” 

How does being a writer impact the editor side of you?

I think my writer side ofttimes overpowers my editor side which allows me to be a little more empathetic to the writer as I read their work. But it can also be a struggle when I keep asking myself “Should I query this? What if it was an artistic choice? Who am I to question or change someone else’s writing?” And I have to remind myself that it’s just a suggestion and a writer may love or hate it, but it’s better to query than not when working as an editor.

If someone wants to hire you as an editor, where will they find you?

Currently, you can contact me through my email: riley.pettyjohn7@gmail.com

On LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rileypettyjohn/

Or on the Northwest Editors Guild Member Directory: https://www.edsguild.org/member-directory

What is one question I didn’t ask, that you wish I would have, and how would you answer it?

What types of editing do you do?

I enjoy copyediting and line editing the most, but I also like to proofread. I mostly like to polish up works and help them to shine. 

What are your goals as an editor?

My biggest goal is to get into publishing. I would love to work for a publishing house and help manuscripts become books.

Transition Stories

I’ve been struggling to write a new story for a year now. During all these months and discarded words and shifting ideas, (and some angst blog posts!) I’ve put a lot of thought into why this one is so hard. I’m finally recognizing these things.

My writing has changed. Not the process, but the stories that come to me. I don’t even really read the genre I always wrote in – mysteries – any more. I have spent this past month clinging to what I used to do, only to realize I’ve been letting go for some time without knowing it. I think a seed of change fell when Sam died. The third year anniversary of his death will be here in days. Another seed when my sister died. That first anniversary was just here. Another seed was the arrival of COVID-19. The virus forced me to look at old nightmares and fears and why I move through life the way I do.

All of those things make me lean more, now, to stories about loss and grief and letting go, and the need to believe that myth and magic are still out there somewhere.

I’ve been trying to make the new story into something its not. Even the characters have been trying to tell me to knock it off. Last week I wrote a scene of dialog between two characters. After, I wondered if I’d given away too much, too soon. But then it dawned on me why I kept going back to that scene. One character says to the other ‘in other words it could be this, or that, or something else entirely!’ and I realized they were telling me I didn’t have a clue what the story was about.

And all of that makes me realize I have to finally, fully, let go of what I wanted this to be originally, and let the characters live their story. I also realized that this one may simply be a transition story for myself that never gets published or shared. It may be my way of learning what no longer works. I think this will actually end up being a short story or novella. The ending feels near.

This story is set in a place I visit but don’t live. I love that area but in writing, I feel like a visitor, just touching the surface of the land. That works okay in one way because the protagonist is a visitor, so the place won’t feel like home to her until the end. But it’s shown me the words don’t flow as easily on land I’m not immersed in.

Recently I was talking over all this with a friend who is having similar struggles with her art. She suggested I take a notepad and walk in the woods. When she said that, I felt a sense of ‘that’s what’s missing’ and a tingle of excitement that another story is out there waiting.

It makes me realize that the forest and mountains are where the stories are that really sink into my soul. That’s where the magic and mystery and myths are. That was brought home to me even more yesterday when I met with two friends to talk about an old abandoned homestead out in the woods. I immediately felt that pull – who were its people? Where did they go? Why were they there? What was out there in the woods with them?

I’m not surprised by this because I’ve always preferred the settings of woods and mountains. It’s just been brought home even more now.

So, this one set between sea and land will be my transition as I slowly figure out how to move forward. It’s almost like being a brand-new writer again – learning the process of what works and what doesn’t. What to hang on to and what to let go of.

And how to turn toward all those new stories waiting out there in the trees.