National Young Writers Festival has been and gone, but that festivalia feeling (and post-festival survey) is here to stay with our short series featuring Canberra writers recalling the best, worst, and most memorable bits of the NYWF twennyfifteen. We’re kicking off with Ashley Thomson and his festival pick, Best Job or Total Flop, which featured Johannes Jakob, Kat Muscat, Alice Grundy, Zoya Patel and Elena Gomez at The Royal Exhange.
Event description: An age old profession, editing is often held up in the writing community as the perfect job for writers and readers alike, but does the day to day experience live up to the hype? Five editors chat about the ins and outs of editorial life.
Robert Gottleib, editor to Joseph Heller, John le Carré, Doris Lessing, Toni Morrison and host of other successfuls, told The Paris Review that the glorification of editors is not a wholesome thing. He was also not a writer, and made a point of saying so: “I dislike writing.” Gottleib existed in the publishing house bubble of the twentieth century, where editors were well-remunerated demi-gods. And, tellingly, it is always from there that discussions of editing tend to originate. Because that bubble, representing the best for which an editor could hope, has been popping for a quarter-century. The glorification of editors, at least in the Gottleibian mould, is popping with it, as is the appeal and feasibility of editing as a career.
The first thing to become clear about this panel of editors is that they weren’t simply ‘editors’. They couldn’t afford to be, and didn’t seem eager to be, either. Only Seizure/Giramondo Publishing’s Alice Grundy expressed a need to disconnect herself from her own creative output in order to edit, and she described it as less than a choice: she could not write whilst working as an editor. Representing Voiceworks, Express Media, The Lifted Brow, Feminartsy and Random House, the remainder of the panel were dogsbodies. Not only were they already all wearing multiple hats—freelance writer, publisher, founding editor, events coordinator—they were uniformly reluctant to say which would endure. As far as editing itself went, the common experiences were voiced: writers are demanding, defensive and ageist; editing is compulsive, gritty and thankless; and aiding in the revelation of a thing of beauty is rewarding. But it was not the “ins and outs” that made this panel stick in the mind.
Rather, it was a moment when Alice Grundy described the future of publishing houses, or rather the ideal future, for she (and Jakob) noted houses’ reluctance to change, as an evolution into “culture companies”. As insidious as it sounds, these culture companies would, rather than relying on the books-only model, branch out into allsorts, as we are already seeing many new magazines do. Podcasts, readings, e-books, workshops, multi-art events, competitions, retreats, flash fiction, poetry and book publishing—a culture of writing, rather than simply novel after novel. Inclusive in this idea is that editors must become more broadly applied, as required. Because how else is an editor supposed to be useful all the time?
The conclusion of this panel, then, supposedly stocked with some of the most promising young editors in Australia, was that editing is neither a flop nor a great job. It’s a nebulous, uncertain preoccupation. Being a young editor is hard, as it always has been, but being an editor, and just an editor, may never be feasible again. To lose hope for that reason, however, is just the wrong thing to do. The best thing to do is gain an imagination.