On Being a Writer-Slash-Something-Else
All my life, I’ve wanted nothing more than to work with books. So I’m still kind of amazed that I get to do that now as both a writer and an editor. I know what a rare thing it is, to have found two jobs I truly love, and so I feel wonderfully, wildly, incredibly lucky. But it can also be a bit of a juggling act, especially when it comes to keeping the two things separate.
I imagine this would be less of a challenge if your two jobs were in completely different arenas — if you were, say, an editor/clown or a writer/marine biologist. But the publishing world is fairly small, and even though I write novels targeted to young readers and edit on the adult side, there’s still a fair amount of overlap between the two.
Earlier in both careers, I was able to keep a bit more distance between them. For years, many of my editorial colleagues had no idea I was a writer too, and when I’d meet other young adult authors, they were always surprised to hear that I had a not-so-secret life as an editor. It seemed important to maintain a wall between my two jobs, especially as I started to work with writers more closely on the editorial side. The whole foundation of those relationships is always my passion for their work, so it would have felt somehow intrusive to mention my own. It was, quite simply, beside the point.
Still, there were so many times I’d listen to one of my authors talk about a specific roadblock in their manuscript, and it would be so similar to something I’d recently tackled in my own novel that I’d have to bite my tongue to avoid shouting, “I know exactly what you mean!” But I figured they wouldn’t want to hear that. It would be like listening to your dentist go on and on about his toothache while sitting in the chair with your hand cupped over your jaw.
And so, for the most part, my two careers existed entirely apart from one another, each on their own separate set of tracks.
Until I joined Twitter, which changed everything.
I’ve never been hugely active online, and I’d heard enough authors describe social media as a second job to be wary of taking it on. I already had two jobs, so the idea of adding a third was more than a little daunting. But around the time my second book came out in 2009, I signed up for Twitter anyway, thinking that it might be fun to follow some of my favorite YA authors (and yes, okay, maybe a few celebrities too). Mostly, though, I figured it would be a great way to reach my core audience, which is mainly teens, allowing me to get the word out about my books, 140 characters at a time.
So I signed up. And just like that, my worlds collided.
When I joined, I’d honestly been expecting to just sort of hang out in the YA corner, chatting with fans and friends and fellow book nerds. But what I hadn’t realized is that Twitter is a kind of ecosystem, and once you’re on there, you’re far more connected than you realize.
The first people outside of the kidlit world to find me were my colleagues, followed by other editors and agents and assorted publishing associates. For the most part, this was great; these were all people I knew and admired, and I loved finding out about what they were working on, what they were reading, what they were thinking. But whenever it came time to tweet something about one of my own books — anything that fell under the category of self-promotion — I got stuck. I would sit there, completely frozen, my face going red at the thought of certain publishing people reading it. I couldn’t help worrying they’d think I was somehow less invested in being an editor if they saw me taking a few minutes out of my day to be a writer.
Then, of course, my authors began to find me, too, which only made me more self-conscious. It’s one thing to spread good news about your book when your audience is mostly comprised of fans, but when I imagined my authors reading those same tweets, suddenly, it felt a lot like bragging.
For a long time, I felt paralyzed by this, and for the most part, I stopped tweeting altogether. But when my third book, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, came out last year, quickly enjoying greater success than my previous two, I started to get more followers, fans who were eager to engage with me about the book, and I felt myself getting drawn in again. This was, after all, was the whole point; it’s what I’d come here for: the chance to have a dialogue with my readers.
But I was always hyper-aware that my authors were out there observing this too, which didn’t help make me any more comfortable. It wasn’t until the book was written up in the New York Times Book Review and even my less plugged-in authors started to email with congratulations that I realized the jig was probably up anyway. I’d been officially outed. And that was okay.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me that my authors were wonderful about it. I’m lucky in that I get to choose who I work with, so they’re all lovely people, each and every one of them. And I realize now that I probably shouldn’t have spent so much time worrying about their reaction, because they’ve all been nothing but supportive. Just a few weeks ago, when my newest book came out and I wrote my 140 characters about it, the first few people to retweet it to their own followers were all authors of mine.
I’d like to think it’s because we have the kind of bond that comes with working together for so long with a common goal. Or because I love their books as much my own, and I’m careful to make sure that I always — in spite of everything else — put them first. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been there too, so I know what it’s like to be running up against a deadline, or to have a last minute inspiration when the book is already in production, or to feel stuck in the doldrums in the very middle of a novel. I can even understand when they’re annoyed with me about something, because when I have my editor hat on, I’m an editor through and through, and even as I’m telling them to cut 20,000 words or lose the prologue, I know it can be tough to hear, because I’ve felt the sting of it, too, when I’m wearing my writer hat. This is a business where you have to put your work in the hands of others and trust that they’ll help make the very best of it. And since I’ve been there too — since I have, as one of my authors put it, “fought the fight” — I can often empathize with them in a deeper way.
But I think maybe it’s also because I’m not the only one with two jobs. So many of us are writers in addition to something else, and so it’s easy to understand what it means to be passionate about more than one thing, and to bring your experience from one career over to another. I might be a writer/editor, but when I look at my list of authors, I see a lot of writers-slash-something-else: writer/teacher, writer/journalist, writer/blogger, writer/actor, writer/parent, writer/historian, writer/farmer, writer/philanthropist.
So I feel lucky to be a writer/editor, because as much as I love both jobs individually, in the end, I’m a much better writer for being an editor, and a much better editor for being a writer. And I’m very proud to be both.