When Josh asked me to take over his blog for today (because he is still recovering from shoulder surgery), I couldn't, for the life of me, decide what I wanted to write about. Foreign rights? The vote for Scottish independence and the power of the historical narrative to impact life today? Why I love stories that tackle social issues? Nah. But there is something people have been asking me about a lot recently and that I'm never sure quite how to handle. It's something I love discussing, but feel a little bit strange talking about with people who know me in my publishing life. My experience as a junior agent/playwright.
For those who don't know, I am a produced, and agented, playwright. It's a big, crazy, adventure that I never explicitly planned to take, but that brings me some of the greatest pride and joy I've ever felt.
Ultimately, I see my two careers as very different, but complementary, parts of my life. I strongly believe that being a writer myself makes me much more sensitive to the needs of authors, especially when it comes to communication on the editorial side. I, too, have had people tell me, "I love your work, but please tear up the entire thing and rewrite it." I have been given editorial advice I didn't agree with and stood my ground, defended my choices. On the flip side, I have also learned to hear criticism, no matter how painful it may be, and to accept when I need to make changes. I honestly don't want to tell you how many times I rewrote my first play. I actually changed the ending midway through the play's run, if you can believe it! Now, although the play has already been produced and reviewed, I know I'll have to go in and make more changes if I want it to move up in the production ranks, as I hope it does.
What this means for the writers I work with is that I understand exactly what I 'm asking of them when I write a big fat editorial letter and say, "So look...we need to completely rework the structure here," or, "That character that we both love actually doesn't belong in this particular book," or even, "You might want to consider changing genres." I give my notes with all the empathy in the word and I have the battle scars to prove it.
Working on the agenting side also gives me a very clear perspective as to what it's like out there for writers. It shows me how important it is to be polite and professional at all times, whether you're a writer, an editor, or an agent. I've learned the importance of email tone and how to develop relationships. I think every writer should make a real effort to understand the business side of the industry because sometimes, when wrapped up in the creative side, it can be hard to remember that that's just what this is: a business.
However, it is a business that revolves around creativity. One of my favorite parts of my job is looking into the heart of a narrative and figuring out, with the author, how to bring it to the surface. I love talking to authors about their visions and working as a team to strengthen their ideas and take the book another step forward. As a writer, I know that there's only so far you can bring a story on your own. As a publishing professional, I like to be the person, or one of the people, who helps someone take their novel one step farther.
Ultimately, I'm a fiction junkie and I love being part of the conversation, whether as a reader, a writer, or a junior agent/assistant. So yes, I am both a person who writes and a person who works with writers. I love those dual roles because they give me a broader perspective, and by understanding both sides of the same coin, my love for each is cemented and my ability in each is strengthened. I wouldn't have it any other way.