Writers and Editors by James R. Coggins

Writers write. Writers write because they can’t not write. They are so overflowing with ideas and stories that they just have to write them down and share them. If they don’t, they feel as if they will burst.

I began to write before I started school. I know this because I can remember drawing the comic book pictures (very badly) and asking someone older to print the dialogue in the balloons over the characters’ heads. In high school, my cousin and I wrote “mags” (collections of stories) for each other, just for fun.

After I had finished a couple of university degrees, I found myself unemployed and confused about the future. One morning, I prayed fervently, “Lord, what do You want me to do with my life?” It was a rhetorical question. I did not expect an answer. But immediately the words “Be a writer” popped into my head. They were inaudible but absolutely clear. My first response was, “That can’t be it. That’s what I want to do.”

A day or two later, I wrote a short opinion piece and phoned the major newspaper in our city, asking what I should do with it. I reached an assistant, who said the “op ed editor” (whatever that was) was looking for an article. She told me to bring my piece down. I did. The editor read it and said, “It’s good. We’ll publish it tomorrow.” I thought, “So that’s how it’s done.” But, of course, that is not how it is done. I know now that the vast majority of submissions are rejected. Being a successful writer is a long, hard journey. But that experience confirmed the call of God.

For the next few years, I continued to work at writing while also working at real jobs to make ends meet. I got married and returned to university for more schooling. Eventually, I ran out of grant money and needed to look for work again. (There is a pattern here. Someone has said that “Writing is the only occupation where, if you don’t make any money, you are not thought ridiculous.”) I had finished all of the degree requirements anyway, except for the minor task of dashing off a well-researched 400-page thesis (which I eventually accomplished in my spare time over the next three years).

About that time, I saw an ad for the position of associate editor at a denominational church magazine. I figured it would be an opportunity to do more writing. It was. I got the job and stayed for 19 years. To my surprise, as an editor, I also discovered joy in finding other people who had something to say and helping them to say it well and clearly. When I have taught writing workshops (“The 167 Simple Steps to Becoming a Successful Writer”), I have always said that the first step is to have something important to say. If you have something important to say, no matter what your writing skills, a good editor can help you to say it clearly. If you don’t have something to say, no matter how eloquently you can say it, an editor can’t help you.

About jrcoggins

James R. Coggins is a professional writer and editor based in British Columbia, Canada. He wrote his first novel in high school, but, fortunately for his later reputation as a writer, it was never published. He briefly served as a Christian magazine editor (for just over 20 years). He has written everything from scholarly and encyclopedia articles to jokes in Reader’s Digest (the jokes paid better). His six and a half published books include four John Smyth murder mysteries and one other, stand-alone novel. In his spare time, he operates Mill Lake Books, a small publishing imprint. His website is www.coggins.ca
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