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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar, "Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction."

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.






  • By Victoria Mixon

    In 2010, Shane Arthur interviewed me on his blog, Editing Hacks:

    1. What is it about editing that drew you to it?

    I got into editing as a teenager—I was the editor of my school newspaper for three years in the 1970s, and being from a highly-literate family I took the dictum of editing quite seriously. Now I’ve got the Red Pencil in my blood.

    I love this work. I just do. I’ve been revising and reworking my own manuscripts for thirty years, and being able to apply those skills that cost me such blood to learn to the manuscripts of other writers—being able to see them snap into focus so easily, without all those months and years of agony—is just a godsend. I could do this forever. I love the writers. I love the hope and innocence and creativity and charm of them. My clients are wonderful people to know.

    2.What character/personality trait, if any, do you believe is necessary to edit well?

    Profound love of the craft. Undying respect for the infinity of the written word, and indefensible hope in its potential. You know you’re never going to be as good as you can possibly be. Communicating telephathically through the written word is an impossible task. But you can try.

    You need to understand the complexity of what you’re tackling. Editing involves not only copy editing—correcting for grammar and punctuation—but also developmental editing—proper structure—and, finally, that most delicate and difficult of all crafts to teach, line editing for beautiful prose. It took me six months to teach myself proper developmental editing, and copy editing can be learned in a week out of the right books with the right attitude. But line editing is an art. It takes years and years of dedicated study and practice.

    Also, you need a really good sense of humor grounded in deep compassion. Nobody’s born knowing how to either write or edit, and they are different skills and must be learned both separately and in conjunction. But a great sense of humor and great kindness for the human animal are essential prerequisites to any type of fulfilling life—I just happen to find writing and editing to be the most fulfilling of all lifestyles.

    3. What’s the most common mistake you find when you edit?

    Underestimation of just how much time and labor goes into writing a book. The world is awash in new aspiring writers these days—truly, almost floating away on it—and they are all relentlessly encouraged by the marketing aspect of the publishing industry to believe they, too, can win the Great Fiction Lottery of Fame and Fortune. It’s completely stupid. But it’s what we have.

    So these innocents come to me in all good faith with manuscripts into which they have poured their blood, sweat, and tears for, really, not nearly long enough, sincerely hoping that they are ready for the bigtime. I’m as compassionate as I can be about breaking the news, but they are discouraged and sometimes quite crushed to learn just how much goes into writing a good book. The marketers didn’t say it was going to be this hard!

    All I can do is keep teaching them, kindly and patiently, step-by-step, what they need to learn in order to succeed at this craft. Yes, it takes a very long time. Yes, as Flannery O’Connor said, it will make your hair turn grey and your teeth fall out. Jean Rhys was a recluse in her sixties when her jewel-like early novels were rediscovered, leading to her gorgeous final novel, Wide Sargossa Sea.

    You have to take the time.

    4.What advice would you give aspiring editors or beginning writers?

    Aspiring editors? Editing is a very specific skill set, related to writing but not limited to it. It involves enormous amounts of study of the craft of fiction—in-depth analysis of hundreds of the greats, developmental and line issues as well as the history of copy issues in the language in which you work—as well as some grounding in psychology and therapeutic techniques. Critiquers are not editors. Even wonderful writers are not necessarily editors. If you want to edit, learn what a really good editor does so you can model yourself on them. Apprentice yourself to someone you trust until they say you’re ready. Sham editors, like unqualified self-publishers, give the entire industry a bad name. Don’t be one of them.

    Beginning writers? Focus on the craft. Block out the marketing hype about getting yourself published. It’s not going to happen like a gamble, the way they say it will, and your failure to make that occur will heap burdens upon your shoulders that will eventually poison your love of writing in general. Tune them out.

    Focus on the task of getting your world down in clean, clear words. Do it because you love it. Make friends with other writers whose work you love. This is your life.

    5.Would you share your favorite editing resources with us (books, web sites, conferences, etc)?

    Well, of course, I have my book, The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual. That’s the basics of what aspiring writers need to know about becoming writers. I have the sequel, The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual. That’s everything you need to know about how to grow plot out of character, design a novel-length scene-by-scene outline, and create reader addiction. And I maintain my advice column so you can ask questions and get freebie answers.

    Personally, I’ve been reading Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners for twenty years, and I still find solace in it. Everyone cites John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist, which is a long-standing classic.

    But my biggest resource is the great authors. Don’t waste your time reading too much modern stuff that’s been shoved through the publication mill as fast as humanly possible. Study the classics: Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Graham Greene, Camus, Isak Denison, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, James Thurber, Paul Bowles, Jane Bowles, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Chandler, John Gardner. I just finished reading Anthony Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds. I read tons of vintage mystery, analyzing plot structure and scene.

    Find clean, clear, high-tension craft and read it. Learn why it works.

    6.Anything else you’d like to add regarding editing?

    This is the best time in my entire life to be working in fiction. I am honored to be a part of the history of publishing at this juncture. If I’d tried to do this twenty years ago, I’d have had to move to New York City and spend my day in an office. I don’t want to live in New York City. And I’ve done my time in offices. Now I get to sit by my kitchen fire applying my decades of skills to beautiful, riveting, exciting manuscripts—becoming friends with wonderful writers from all walks of life and all levels of experience. This is my dream job. And I get to work it.

    How lucky am I?

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    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

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Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, tragic and beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .


SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I'm working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with her three sci-fi/fantasy series based on her dual careers in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In Casimir Bridge, the first novel of his debut sci-fi series, Beyer uses every bit of his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which "space bridges" allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans' fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez' debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff's abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star, which agents had told him to throw away. Read more. . .


In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

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