Ask the Editor: An Introduction

by Elisabeth Kauffman
published in Writing

If anyone asks who started this, I blame Cheryl Strayed. I read her book Tiny Beautiful Things recently, and loved the straightforward approach she has to giving advice for the “Dear Sugar” column on The Rumpus. Cheryl opened space for people to ask their burning questions, the ones they were too ashamed to share even with people who love them. And her responses, while coated in epithets like “sweet pea” and “darling,” delivered the truth from her point of view, intended to help her readers find freedom, peace, and strength.

So, when Gabriela approached me and asked if I would like to write a column for DIY MFA, the first idea that popped into my head was an Ask the Editor column allowing Word Nerds to email me for writing advice.

Let’s face it. Every writer needs a little advice from time to time—about a character or a theme, about a bit of grammar or a stylistic choice—even if all you need is a confirmation that you should trust your instincts. Writing, an often solitary pursuit, can get a bit twitchy and punchy. After a while you may find you can’t remember how to spell normal words like “half” and “undulation,” much less how to draft a complete sentence or scene. That’s where Ask the Editor comes in.

What to Expect from “Ask the Editor”

I probably won’t call you “sweet pea” but, when you need to get out of your head, when you need an anchor to put your narrative back in perspective, you can count on me to bring you down to earth. Send me your wild and wacky questions, your burning need-to-knows, whatever is keeping you up at night, be it about a piece you’re working on or one you’ve read. We’ll sort it out together.

But we will do so much more than Q&A in this column. We’ll talk about why your writing needs critique, and what to do with it when you get it. We’ll explore how to prepare for receiving critique, what to do with confusing feedback, and how to know when you’re ready to release your work to the world.

We’ll get real about how to give useful critique so that you and your writing partners become stronger writers, not stuck in an echo chamber of empty praise, too-caustic opinions or personal attacks that have nothing to do with the text presented for consideration.

Who is “The Editor” anyway?

As for my credentials, I’ve worked in the freelance editing business since 2012. I’ve worked with agents and publishing houses, independent clients and co-dependent clients. I’ve gazed into the heart of the slush pile and instead of going mad I just… well okay, I went a little mad. Mad because it made me realize I wanted to help as many writers as I can tell their best story. And so I made it my business to offer insight and encouragement, critique and counsel to those who ask for it.

So ask the editor. Let’s get honest. Let’s get technical. Let’s dig in to the nuts and bolts of the craft, the wit and whimsy of imagination. Let’s figure out how to unravel the tangle you find yourself in and find the beauty and the art in what you’ve created.

How to “Ask the Editor”

Send your questions to Limit yourself a few paragraphs to introduce yourself and the problem at hand. “Brevity is the soul of wit,” after all. And keep an eye out for opportunities to send in longer submissions for critique.

Elisabeth Kauffman is a freelance editor in California. Her favorite genres are YA fantasy, sci-fi, and romance. She regularly obsesses over board games, Doctor Who, and Harry Potter. Come share your ideas with her on Facebook and Twitter and on the web at Also, check out her author website and her author page on Facebook.

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