I began translating books in 2016. It’s now impossible for me to separate that practice from my work as a writer and editor. If you write or edit, and if you’re a heritage speaker or thinking of learning another language, consider integrating translation as part of your “strength training.” Tackle a poem or a paragraph from a book you love.
Agents & Editors Recommend
A dependable source of professional and creative advice, this weekly series features anecdotes, insights, tips, recommended reading and viewing for writers, and more from leading agents and editors.
The most important part of a book—be it a memoir, novel, or something else entirely—is the ending. It’s your last opportunity to show the reader what you’re truly capable of as a writer. There’s the well-worn instruction that declares endings should be surprising, yet inevitable, and I’ve always found that the best endings adhere to it. My favorite kind of endings are the ones that misdirect, or seem to; they pivot from the established narrative in some meaningful way. Mary Gaitskill does this in Veronica.
When editing a piece for publication, I imagine each comment or suggested change to punctuation, language, or sentence structure as a first entry in my dialogue with the writer. None of my edits are set in stone—even the tiniest addition or deletion of a comma can be reversed—but I am looking to see if the writer has understood their own intent behind their choices.
I’m writing today in defense of the happy ending. I tend to be most moved by good news—I’m the type of person who is more likely to cry at a wedding than a funeral—so I’m always hoping to find more delight in my reading. Even if you aren’t ready to embrace the high of the romance genre’s glorious HEA (happily ever after) or HFN (happily for now), may I recommend a few new acronyms? What about the ending that leaves our protagonists enjoying a SBMW (small but meaningful win) or feeling LMTTWATB (less miserable than they were at the beginning)?
Some writers, especially when we’re just starting to find our voices, believe that the best art is unfiltered expression, “pure” creativity. There’s something stereotypically American to me about that idea, how bootstrappy it is, ruggedly individual. I’m fascinated by the assumption that a mystical, uncompromising Pure Art could exist at all, but more than that, that it would be meaningful to anyone other than its creator. This must sometimes happen! But I see writing more like a bridge that we build to reach other people across a chasm of our different beliefs and experiences.
Go reread a book. Not as an exercise to see what works, but as a way to get back into reading. Rereading eliminates the ambiguity of whether you’re going to love it or not—you already do! Think of it as reconnecting with an old friend.
Try to maintain a balance between input and output. Whether writers feel uninspired, burned out, or overwhelmed—or they feel like every sentence they’re writing is pure gold—my constant refrain is, “Take a break. Do something that has nothing to do with this book.” It is ineffective and spiritually draining for creators (or anyone, really) to be in a one-way relationship with content; it’s so much easier to generate interesting stuff when you’re absorbing interesting stuff.
As readers, we’ve all had the experience of walking into a bookstore and amassing a pile to bring to the counter, never mind the stacks of unread books waiting at home. Usually some form of reason will prevail—be it a budget or reluctance to carry a heavy bag. You may want to sweep the entire New Releases shelf into your cart, but in the end you’ll select only one or two titles you feel confident you’ll enjoy.
Be the change you want to see in the lit world. That might be volunteering for a literary journal or press to ensure that your underrepresented identity has a champion in the queue, or it might be requesting recent small press releases for acquisition at your local public library—many libraries have an online form for requests, and most are delighted to acquire the books their community wants to read!
It might seem a bit fanciful, but I recommend that writers consider cadence—that modulation of voice and pace that produces a work’s rhythm.