Notes on Being an Editor

Art, Creative Writing, Issues

This post is from Xanthe Fuller. Xanthe is an Editor of Notes, she likes poems and writing to be simple and funny. She used to write a column about breakfast and now frequently receives messages about what people consume in the morning. She doesn’t know what to do with the information, but appreciates it.


I didn’t know very much about Notes when I applied to be an editor. I had heard the name mentioned a bit via some friends who had been published and through the odd Facebook post, but I had never submitted or attended a Notes event. All I knew when applying was that it seemed like a worthwhile thing, and a thing that I could hold in my hand while essays ploughed from keyboard to supervision to the deepest reaches of the back of my mind. I did a Skype interview with two pixelated (and frequently faceless) individuals. They asked about writing I liked, so I talked about appreciating William Carlos Williams and said that I –  like everyone seems to – thought Ali Smith wrote the most beautiful prose going. I gave my opinions on things and they made understanding sounds and gently suggested their own ideas to further discussion. It was less of an interview and more of a conversation, a lovely conversation. I swiftly realised that this is what editors’ meetings were like, not a set of brutal yes or no piles, but a conversation about art and people who make it. Editorial consists of isolated reading, meetings, construction of the edition and culminates in the launches. At the launch parties, it all comes alive and you match the face to the email and the voice to the clever prose. You get to hold an object you have spent hours creating and just enjoy it. The launches allow the editorial, design and publicity teams to come together, so you can meet the people who love to write for it and see all the people who have contributed to its creation.

The editorial process begins immediately after the submission deadline. Before every meeting each editor has to read the submissions over a day or a day and a half. Sometimes it’s a long, arduous process, and sometimes you can rattle through the submissions. There are ebbs and flows in the submission quantity and qualities. Over the holidays people have time to reflect and write about the big and the small events in their lives, from the way that snow falls and settles on windowsills to crushing breakups and intense loves. While submission numbers tend to fall in week 6, with the supposed week 5 blues suppressing creative time, energy and enthusiasm. The rhythm of the year is reflected in the writing we receive, the quantity and content moulded to the shape and spirits of the eight-week term.

The meetings happen on Saturday mornings in bedrooms or college rooms. We gradually move through the submission emails, going on tangents, spending a disproportionate amount of time on small details and clashing over divided opinions. The editors all come from different colleges, years, subjects and mind-sets. We all have different ways of reading and discussing writing, and this really emerges in the meetings. You get to know the other editors in a way you don’t know your friends. You learn about their taste before their personality: the types of writing they like and dislike, the things that they prioritise, the intersections between your Venn diagram of taste and theirs. Jun likes beautiful small things, Finty loves self-conscious melancholy (cigs and sadness), Rosa likes mud and Alessandro always surprises me. Little by little you see patterns in your own taste: I love it when people use food in order to create art, when artists or writers derive value from the mundane or seemingly trivial. You also learn to appreciate things when they aren’t to your taste at all, simply because they are worth appreciating and deserve to be published.

I think there’s a general sense that to be an editor you have to know every canonical – and modern – author well or be able to quote every Poet (with a capital P). A sense that you have to have been published in every publication that you have ever submitted to, that you have to know exactly what you like. But this is not the case. It’s an editorial team, you can play any role you like within it, just as long as you bring something to the table. Being an editor has allowed me to think about what makes something good, about what makes me like it and most of all, why art is valuable at all. It allows you to think about words or images beyond your degree, with no looming examination or intellectual pressures. I have loved being an editor for Notes, it has been a grounding, interesting thing, it has been a way of meeting great people I know that I definitely wouldn’t have met otherwise and it has been (as I originally hoped) so worthwhile.