Let’s Get Inspired by – Ellen Hawley – Part 2 of 2

To be inspired by another life and their routines helps us in our writing, blogging, and life journey. Therefore, I love to be inspired with the help of a few blogger friends I have created this “let’s be inspired series”, click here to read the introductory post.

This the second part  of our interview with Ellen Hawley. 

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In part 1 focused on Ellen’s blogging journey, her advice to blogger, how she picked her niche, how often she blogs and her process. Ellen is an extremely entertaining writer I do encourage you to visit her blog.

Today in part 2 we will learn about Ellen the Editor, her advice for wannabe editors and what we should consider when working with an editor. We will also discuss her book writing (a little). 

Who is Ellen?

Ellen Hawley has been blogging since 2015. Her blog is called Notes From the UK   . 

What drew me to read her blog was the topic of Brexit and I think I started to follow towards the end of 2019. She writes so well and her tone always has me laughing quietly and she is a good source of information.  She blogs about the wonders of the UK current affairs, along with the world and the history of the UK from the perspective of an American living in the UK.       I really love Ellen’s writing style, how she blends different topics so easily and always keeps my attention on her blog post.  Please do make sure you visit her blog to see what I am talking about for yourself.

It was only when I decided to the ‘Let’s be inspired’ series and ask Ellen is she would like to be interviewed, that I found out, she has published three books (see her author page is Ellen Hawley), and that she is a retired Editor.  By the way – Retired really does mean RETIRED ( I asked just in case !)

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How did you become an editor?  Did you edit certain genres only?  I don’t know much about editing.

I became an editor the wrong way: by accident. In the sixties, I worked on a couple of underground and community newspapers and ended up looking like I knew more than, in fact, I did. I like to think that along the way I figured out what I was doing, but it would’ve been nice to have some training.

I’ve worked as both a copy editor and as an editor. The first is the person who obsesses over the language and the minutiae and the second, the person who selects and rejects and helps shape.

To some extent, I crossed genres. I worked with self-help books (which I don’t like), with literary fiction (which I love), with children’s nonfiction (which I knew nothing about and came to love).

I copyedited a compilation on global warming, which included a fair bit of hard science, and I was completely out of my depth and should never have been turned loose on it.

I worked as a copyeditor for a hunting and fishing magazine. Being a vegetarian was the perfect qualification. I had to lean heavily on the editors for specific information, but what they needed most was someone who could pound a bad sentence into comprehensible shape (they didn’t pay their writers well and got about what you’d expect), and I could do that.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com
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What makes a good editor? If there are any wannabe editors reading this interview?

At its best, the writer/editor relationship is like two people singing together. The writer carries the melody and the editor harmonizes. So as an editor you have to blend into someone else’s voice and song and, abandoning the metaphor, intent, sharpening but not imposing, trying to make the writer’s work more what they wanted it to be, not what you’d have written if you’d been carrying the melody. The dividing line is hard to find and you make mistakes. Inevitably. The best compliment I ever got as an editor was when someone told me I’d turned his article into what he would have written if he’d taken a few more weeks with it.

As a writer, working with a good editor is a joy. Notice I said a good editor. Find a bad one and it’s a mess, but I’ve been lucky in my editors. Someone with a great voice comes in and sings harmony with you. It’s wonderful.

What makes a good editor? Oh, hell, the answer’s endless, contradictory, and probably not helpful. At a minimum, though, you have to understand how the language works and be willing to look for that elusive line between helping and taking over.

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

What things annoyed you about the work you edited and why?  What advise can you give to writers hiring an editor?

I got tired of writing that was so awkward that I spent all my time cleaning up the surface. The form has to be strong enough to hold the content. If you write, language is your tool kit. Understand it. Don’t think you can rough something out and toss it at someone else, who’ll salvage it. That’s both arrogant and self-sabotaging. Learn your craft.

On the other hand, I loved the excitement of finding good writing, discovering a new voice, or working with a writer until a piece was as good as between we could make it. I loved absorbing myself in fields where I wasn’t an expert. When I edited, I got under the surface of the writing and absorbed more than I do when I’m just reading.

I’m not sure how to choose an editor if you’re hiring one. It’s a good question, but it’s not one I can answer. One of my hesitations about self-publishing is that I don’t think you can reproduce the writer/editor relationship that you get (if you’re lucky) with an editor who chooses your book for publication. I’ve selected manuscripts and I’ve been hired by writers, and I don’t think I was as effective when I was working directly for the writer. But that could’ve been just me. I don’t know.

What do you mean by Learn your Craft?  It is the usual read more, write more, check spelling etc?

It’s easy to say “learn your craft” and move on to the next paragraph, but then Bella asked me what I meant.

Um. Yeah. 

I don’t know if I can answer the question, but I’ll stumble around a bit. If I come up with something useful, good. If not, ignore me. I’m reasonably sure that learning the craft is different for different people. It depends on what you’re good at and what you’re not. 

For some people, it means learning the mechanics of the language, because, um, you’re a writer. Language is what you’ll be using. Don’t think you can just toss some words on a page and count on someone else to come along and put them in the right places. That’s your job. Learn to love the language. Learn to love words. 

For other people it’s about figuring out who you are and what your voice is. Sometimes, though–forget who you really are–it’s about figuring out who you want to be on the page. What, mechanically, do you need to do with the language to make yourself sound the way you want to sound? What do you have to do emotionally?

For any writer, it’s about reading. Read a lot. Read more than that.

If you’re a fiction writer, learn about fiction writing–especially your genre. If you’re a nonfiction writer, ditto. Read as a writer, not just a reader. Look at the mechanics of the books you love. Look at books you don’t like too, because sometimes it’s easier to see the mechanics there–things that work even if you don’t like the book; things you hate and never want to do. 

Read books on writing, not because they’re right but because at the very worst they’ll give you a way to think about what writers do. Don’t take anyone’s advice–including mine–so seriously that you start doing what you’re told. Writing isn’t about coloring between the lines. Sometimes it’s about learning the rules and breaking them. And sometimes it’s about not doing that, because breaking the rules is a risk and it doesn’t always work.  

I don’t know if any of that helps. There’s no formula. 

Ellen’s Books

Ellen has written three books see her author page. Open Line (Coffee House Press) and Trip Sheets (Milkweed Editions) and The Divorce Diet. Here are some of what people are saying about The Divorce Diet.

copyright Ellen Hawley

A sweet and realistic story about how the smallest of comforts can provide the greatest abundance and joy.”

— Margaret Dilloway, author of Sisters of Heart and Snow

“Revenge is sweet. Reinventing yourself is even sweeter.”

—Cathy Lamb

Are you planning to write more books?

Always. I have two that I’m trying to find agents for at the moment, a novel that set in the US and a nonfiction book on English history that grew out of the blog. So that’s one aimed at the American market and one at the British, hence the need for separate agents.

Have you self-published?  What do think of self-publishing?

I’m not cut out for it. Self-publishing may be a great thing—I don’t know—but it’s not a good match for me.

What advice would you give to wannabe book writers?  How to go about, how long it takes, and juggling life and writing?

I never saw one-size-fits-all writing advice that I though really would fit everyone. Mostly I’d say learn your craft but don’t get trapped by what seem like rules. Listen to what other people tell you about your writing but don’t get trapped by that either. They may be right and they may not be. Or they may be right for someone else but not for the writing you want to do. It’s a balancing act. If you throw out any comments that don’t sit well with you, you’ll learn nothing. If you do everything everyone tells you, you’ll never find what’s in you.

You’ll make mistakes on both sides. Pick yourself up and try again.

Love what you’re writing. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get your book out into the world, so be sure the process is worth it to you.

The “Let’s” CONTINUE to ” Be Inspired“ .. the Interviews Continue…

I hope you are enjoying the “Let gets inspired” series so far.  Today is the last interview with Ellen. But, I have other blogger friends lined up as part of this series. I do hope you come back to read their stories. 

The learning I have taken from Ellen’s interview part 1 and part 2

  • Love what you are doing – other wise don’t do it
  • Write engaging content and reply to comments in the same way
  • Write what you care about. If you care about it then your reader will too. Read part 1 of the interview with Ellen.
  • Keep learning
  • When working with Editors don’t be lazy. You damage the relationship, you self sabotage your future and present (by giving yourself a bad name) and you are wasting your own money because you have to pay extra for your laziness which simply but in my view point is foolish.
  • Figure out what Learn your craft means for you as our weakness in the field of writing will be different to each other – therefore our learning will be different.
  • Discipline.
  • Laugh
  • I personally love the way Ellen write, it is funny and can take the edge of a serious topics (which is really needed sometimes).
  • Our Careers – can happen by accident and that is totally fine. For me my career was by design to a certain degree, but job opportunities lead to good accidents, and some not so good. But, basically we can learn anything and make anything work if we really want to or even have too

Don’t forget to visit Ellen’s blog

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I have learnt a lot from the three bloggers that have been interviewed as part of this series and I hope you have too. The biggest learning is to LOVE what you do, be CONSISTENT in your own way, Take time to engage with other bloggers and write meaningful comments. Create a schedule that works for you, and it is easy to create a schedule if you really love what you are doing.

If you missed the first blogger Robbie Cheadle in the series you can read her interview here. Kamal Roohani was the second blogger interviewed – click here to read.

Do visit again to read the stories of other bloggers interviews I have lined up for 2021.

34 replies

  1. Hi Bella, thanks for sharing this interesting post. I have come across Ellen in the blogosphere and have read some of her posts. Some of the information goes over my head because I’m not that close to UK politics but I love reading about the history of the UK. I didn’t know she was an editor. I agree 100% with her comments. I have a lovely developmental editor in the UK and we work so well together. I have worked with other editors from the USA and that has worked well for me too. I am very receptive to advice and suggestions to improve my stories and writing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Robbie. I think Ellen’s historical post will certainly interest you. And I guess the specific UK related issues will be too much for anyone, including me who lives here. LOL. Thank you for sharing your experience with your UK and USA editors and how you work with them. I think it is like any professional relationship it should be professional but that doesn’t stop it from being rewarding and enjoyable.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I have been blogging for years. I love writing because I find that I can say more on paper. It feels more intimate to me. I am working on a book and have writing 5 other books. I realize that my problem is that when I write I write as thought I have to have all the answers and let the story write itself. This can happen only when I just begin to write, just write and write so much and then go back and refine becasue the best stories are usually there or the new idea that would have never come had I not just written. I am a creative and and working hard to explore I felt bad embarassed at my writing that I piblished on Amazon. I realize that it is my process and it’s always a part of the process. At least now that I have corrected and republished the book I know that my writing keeps improving.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for sharing this wonderful interview Bella and I’ve enjoyed reading Ellen’s views from an editor’s perspective. I have worked with poetry journal editors, anthology editors and the editor of my two full collections and really appreciate the insight they bring and the way they highlight areas that I can expand upon and/or polish a bit more.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you. I am learning a great deal. I never knew how much I don’t know. And at the same time I feel so inspired by all the bloggers who have been kind enough to allow me to interview them. Learning loads and I hope at the same time I am improving my blogging skills, schedule, habit and passion.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Loved the singing metaphor. I agree with the wisdom of learning one’s craft. So much excellent advice! I appreciate how Ellen goes back to the idea of not getting trapped by rules or of not taking writing advice too seriously. I’ve been guilty of those two. What matters as both of you mention is to keep learning.

    Liked by 3 people

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