So, in my past life I taught English—and loved it. I still make forays back into a classroom as a volunteer, but I do miss the familiar greeting of my friends in the giant English anthologies. Their work in my life—and their words in my mind—were as regular as the seasons, and I got great at making their lives interesting and relevant for my student body.
When I started writing, I realized that I had learned an awful lot about fiction and publishing from the greats—their lives and words had been there all along. Here are some of my favorite lessons, passed on to you:
Emily Dickinson—I’ve learned a lot from the Belle of Amherst—this is only a tiny corner of what she had to teach me.
Lesson: Your editors are not evil—they really do have your best interest in mind.
How I learned it: Much has been made of Emily Dickinson’s editors, and how the six poems she published during her lifetime were horribly maimed before they were printed. Those editors were trying, in their way, to get Emily’s work out to the people. The changes they made—though not literarily awesome—were there to help for public consumption. But Emily wasn’t looking for fame, she was looking for greatness (undoubtedly achieved) and the changes hurt her heart too much to continue. After her death, editors who saw that literary greatness went through her preciously tied bundle of poems and edited them with the delicate, precise cuts of that guy who carves masterpieces on the head of a pin. The results were the fey, ethereal, profound works that we teach high school students today.