About a year and a half ago, I finished the first draft of a novel. I was a awash in feelings; proud to have finally finished a project of this length, exhausted and drained from the process, and mostly terrified because I knew it needed lots of work but had no idea where to begin.
Enter Chelene Knight – an award winning author and poet – founder of Breathing Space Creative Literary Studio and Learn Writing Essentials. I saw an ad for her services online and clicked. I’m so glad that I did.
Chelene responded to my webform quickly and her tone immediately put me at ease. I felt heard and respected. Chelene reviewed my initial work sample and within a few weeks we had a plan. Chelene provided a detailed editorial letter and consultation after reviewing my entire first draft. I was left with a clear roadmap to edit my novel. I was so happy with Chelene’s approach that I continued on with an intensive writing mentorship. It was an invaluable experience that helped me to explore not only my literary work, but also the publishing industry, my writerly brand, and my approach to self care as a new writer on submission.
Award winning author and founder of, Chelene Knight was kind enough to answer a few questions about her editing services.
Candice Suchocki Weir: Can you tell us about your journey to becoming an editor?
Chelene Knight: Years ago when I was fresh out of the writer's studio at Simon Fraser University, I was often asked to read excerpts from friends' manuscripts and offer suggestions. I found that instead of critiquing, I would ask questions of the work. I shared my thoughts on what resonated with me. I looked at structure, shape, and containers, and offered ideas for building unique houses for the work. I encouraged these writers to play with the "what if?" and explore the possibilities of form, language, and character. The responses were so positive that I had to acknowledge the fact that I may just have a knack for this editing thing.
In 2016 I started my own writer's studio, Learn Writing Essentials, which blossomed into something bigger, Breathing Space Creative. The rest is history, as they say!
CSW: What is unique about your approach to editing?
CK: I start by meeting the writer where they are at. I ask questions: Where does their current draft sit? What does it need? What does the writer need? These questions are answered through an initial phone or Zoom meeting. I speak with the writer about their expectations (realistic ones of course) and how working with a substantive editor is meant to be a bridge between drafts. It is not the editor's job to "fix" the work. They are a guide, they sit outside of the story and look at the bones. They check the wiring, they acknowledge possible fires and communicate these to the writer. I focus on truth, trust, and transparency.
I think one of the most unique parts of my approach is that I focus on wellness and sustainability. We don't often think about taking care of our bodies and minds while writing and creating. But we are giving so much of ourselves to the page. We have to replenish, fill our cups, and make time for dedicated rest. It's ok NOT to be writing all the time.
CSW: What kind of project interests you most?
CK: I'm a sucker for literary fiction saturated with poetic prose. I love characters who leap off the page. Stories with luscious settings, complicated characters, memoirs that push the boundaries of what we think we know about the world. I love complex and fresh books that examine the nuanced cartilage holding together fragile mother-daughter relationships. I love strange characters, and epic family sagas. I like to be challenged as a reader and as an editor.
CSW: What is your advice for writers who have completed a first draft of a book length project?
CK: Take the time to work through your revisions. Do not rush the editing process. It is your friend! You will have to revise over and over and over. Be willing to do the work. An editor can help you get to that next draft, but they cannot write the book for you. Be patient. Be kind to yourself.
Chelene Knight is the author of the Braided Skin and the memoir Dear Current Occupant, winner of the 2018 Vancouver Book Award, and long-listed for the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature. Her essays have appeared in multiple Canadian and American literary journals, plus the Globe and Mail, the Walrus, and the Toronto Star. Her work is anthologized in Making Room, Love Me True, Sustenance, The Summer Book, and Black Writers Matter, winner of the 2020 Saskatchewan Book Award.
The Toronto Star called Knight, “one of the storytellers we need most right now.” Knight was the previous managing editor at Room magazine, and the previous festival director for the Growing Room Festival in Vancouver. She is now CEO of her own literary studio, Breathing Space Creative and she works as an associate literary agent with Transatlantic Agency. Chelene often gives talks about home, belonging and belief, inclusivity, and community building through authentic storytelling. Chelene teaches part time at the University of Toronto
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