Name: Blake Atwood
Book Title: Don’t Fear the Reaper: Why Every Author Needs an Editor
Your book’s Amazon purchase link:
What is your book about?
Don’t Fear the Reaper is mostly a primer on what a new author needs to know about working with a freelance editor. The book answers oft-asked questions about kinds of editors, their costs, and their processes. It provides helpful self-editing techniques, advice on how to make an editor love you, and tips how to make an editor not like you so much. But Reaper also has a not-so-hidden message.
The book begins with an inscription, John Donne’s Holy Sonnets #10, the one most people know because it begins with “Death, be not proud.” As a whole, the book argues that if writing and publishing is a form of immortality—especially when our digital books will long outlast us—then authors ought to take the time to create their best possible works. Ostensibly, that means seeking the help of a qualified editor, who in many ways is a writer’s literary grim reaper, whose job isn’t to tear their work apart for the joy of such power, but to purge the writer’s sins that he or she may cross over to a life, or at least a legacy, they’d never before imagined.
What inspired you to write your book?
I started my own writing and editing business in July of 2014. As I accrued knowledge and experience and the same kinds of questions kept rolling in, I figured I’d answer them in a (hopefully) compelling format. In many ways, Reaper is my business card. For what it’s worth, my favorite chapter to write was Chapter 6, “Unveiling Validation’s Hiding Place.” It’s essentially the many words of well-known writers who constantly doubted their abilities even though they’d made millions or had the respect of just as many. I wrote the chapter to myself, and it’s one I still have to visit when the shadows of doubt start stretching themselves over my work.
Can you describe your writing process?
I sit. I think. I write. I wait. I edit. I publish.
Of course, it’s not that easy. These days, my schedule is full of client work, and client work is often easier to accomplish because I’m not as emotionally invested as I would be if it were my own book.
That said, my writing process is a constant winnowing. I begin with as much content as I can. (I’m also a ghostwriter, so I’m usually overflowing with content from my clients.) Using the vertical side-by-side view in Scrivener, I copy-and-paste the content I want to use into a new document, then begin writing and whittling. I reach my word count for the day, for that project, then I’ll edit that section the next day. As a professional editor, I tend to think that my first drafts are relatively clean, but I’m also a happily paying customer of Grammarly, which I’ll often use as my last-pass fail-safe (even though each of its edits also needs to be reviewed.)
How did you come to do what you’re doing today?
I’ve worked as a Texas Senate proofreader, a church communications director, a law firm copywriter, and a social media startup editor, so my current job would almost seem an inevitability. As the startup had to close its doors, I had to find something quickly. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now were it not for my wife’s insistence that I might actually be able to start and sustain my own company. We agreed to give it six months to see if it would work. Thanks to her encouragement and loyal clients, it’s been almost three years since she pushed me off the ledge and into owning my own business.
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
I awake at 5 a.m., grab a cup of coffee, then sit behind my computer. I have a standing editing gig with a news commentary website that requires my availability between 5:30 and 6 a.m. every weekday. (If you’re desperate to change your writing schedule to the early morning, find someone who’ll pay you to get up that early.) While I’m waiting on that article, I’ll work on whatever project is most pressing. Right now, that’s a book under contract with a publisher that has to be finished in a month.
My son gets up at 6:30 a.m., and we try to eat breakfast and roar like dinosaurs within an hour, before my wife carts him off to daycare. I’ll write, edit, meet, market, or get sucked too far into social media from 7:30 a.m. till 4 p.m. But please note: my most productive hours are certainly before lunch. I try to relegate less mentally taxing work—marketing and meetings and invoicing and bookkeeping—to after lunch.
What do you most enjoy about what you do?
The flexibility of my schedule. I love that I get to earn my living from writing, and that’s something I never thought would be possible, but now that I’m a new dad, my answer has changed. Even though establishing my writing and editing business has been a lot of work, I always knew my personal purpose behind it. The flexibility of my schedule has allowed me so much more time with our little guy than I would have had had I remained with a company.
Are there any people and/or books that have inspired you along your journey?
Never ask an English major/writer/editor about his favorite books. Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art made me think I could be a writer worth reading. Stephen King’s On Writing made me see that writing didn’t have to be so difficult. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style showed me that wit and wisdom can make a boring subject sing. Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid opened my eyes to the hidden foundations of story. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird had me rolling with laughter and believing that what I wrote could matter. Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir made me see that I could write my own life story if I wanted too—and if I could just get past myself. And John Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel revealed to me that even one of the greatest of American authors often doubted his literary worth, which made me feel I wasn’t in such bad company.
Can you share something that people may be surprised to learn about you?
Because I used the word albatross in a blog post about being voted Most Likely to Succeed in my senior class, I was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal for “‘Most Likely to Succeed’ Burden”.
I’m a drummer, and I’ve also been an extra in Friday Night Lights, the TV show.
What’s next for you?
As the new Dallas-area chapter leader of the Nonfiction Authors Association, I’m excited about the lineup that’s scheduled so far for this year: Blake Kimzie (a creative writing lecturer at the University of Texas Dallas), Glenn Yeffeth (CEO of BenBella Books), Mary DeMuth (author of more than thirty books), and Jane Friedman, whom I think needs no description when it comes to writing and publishing.
More personally, I’m daily pondering what my next book ought to be.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
My first book was The Gospel According to Breaking Bad. If you love the show and might appreciate a spiritual, philosophical take on it, I highly recommend the book.
Thanks for this wonderful interview. One question: Blake, what do you do after 4 pm? 🙂