21 March, 2017

How did you become a magazine editor?

Yesterday it was five years since I officially became the managing editor of Japan Harvest.

I often get asked how that came about, especially from missionaries within OMF. So, here is my story.

I have no formal training in writing or editing. My degree was Occupational Therapy. But I have been interested in writing non-fiction for a long time. My first "published article" was as a teen in a small youth group newsletter, as the winner of a competition, writing about my favourite Psalm.

My interest in producing newspaper/magazine-type publications has been fostered while putting together our own monthly prayer letter since 1999. It's something missionaries complain about having to do, but I've always enjoyed.

However, my journey into this job started with discontent and confusion. We came to Japan with my husband focused on teaching missionary kids. I was focused, at the time,  on surviving being a mum to small, lively boys, but willing to help out where I could. I struggled at language school and in our subsequent placing in a church plant. In fact our whole first term in Japan (nearly four years) was a big challenge, one that I very nearly didn't recover from in order to come back to Japan.

Our second term in Japan began with a move to Tokyo (from the northern city of Sapporo). David, my husband, started work at the Christian Academy in Japan and immediately felt he'd found what God had been leading him to. I, on the other hand, was stuck at home with little, energetic boys in this huge metropolis, knowing almost no one and speaking less than adequate Japanese. Our boys were two months, nearly two years, and 6 years old when we arrived. Up to my ears in being a stay-at-home mum, I also threw myself into making Japanese friends at the local kindergarten where our eldest began that year. 

As time went on I started asking God why he'd called me to Japan without giving me excellent Japanese. I imagined that that's what a missionary should have, and I simply didn't. Nor did I have the energy to try to get it. By the end of each day, the only time I had for focused study, I was exhausted. Not only that, but with my husband working full-time and out of the house from 7.30 to 5.30, I was very limited in what I could manage with the boys in tow.

God answered my heart's plea by taking me on a journey into writing (in English) and then editing and now managing a magazine. I've written a little bit about that journey here in "Finding my sweet spot". Here's an excerpt:
Eventually I rediscovered that I’d been uniquely made. I remembered that God had called me to Japan already knowing my strengths and weaknesses. So my question became: What possible purpose could he have for me with the abilities and gifts he had given me?

Within a few months I received several encouragements to pursue writing. I stumbled upon a small group of Christian writers on the internet who offered to help me improve. Since then I’ve had a number of articles published in different magazines and received a lot of encouragement. I also picked up other small things I was able to do well, not only without the need of excellent Japanese, but also without needing to leave home. This was such an encouragement to me.
I wrote here in more detail about my writing journey up until 2012. Here's an excerpt from that post that makes the connection between journeying as a writer and getting into editing:
I did a short writing course over the Internet. On that course I wrote an article [Crying in the Snow] that I eventually submitted to Japan Harvest, the magazine of the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association (JEMA). The editor of the magazine was impressed enough to imply he'd like me to be involved with the magazine somehow. 

A couple of years later I took him up on that as I pondered what my ministry in Japan would look like once I had all the boys at school. After discussions, he decided to appoint me as the Associate Editor of Japan Harvest.
My involvement in the critique group (I mentioned them above as "a small group of Christian writers") developed my editing "muscles". As a group we submitted work we wanted to publish and everyone else in the group gave their suggestions on how it could be improved, pointed out mistakes etc. That was a challenging place to submit work, but also to submit critiques. However, it turned out to be a great place to grow as a writer and an editor. As I saw what successful writers with a critical mind said about my work and what they said about others' work—I learned what to look for. By the way, I'm still involved in this little group (it really is little now, just three of us, when I first joined we had about five or six).

Six months after I started helping out with the magazine, in March 2011, a giant earthquake struck Japan and we had a disaster on our hands. While not in the disaster zone, I was "on staff" of a Japan-magazine, and my boss decided we needed to put out a "disaster issue". But he was largely unavailable to help, as he was deeply involved in helping out with the relief effort. So I got thrown in the deep end and acted as the managing editor for that issue.

I learned so much in those couple of months and started on the long road of making changes to the magazine on many fronts, gradually making it a more polished production. A year after that crisis, we finally came to the conclusion that it would be better to call me the managing editor and my boss became the executive editor. It was really a gradual process of me taking on more and more and him gradually letting go. A process that was not easy for either of us.

It's hard to believe that this is where I am now. I've now gained a lot of experience, in not just editing articles, but in many areas, including leading a team, being a manager, and the delicate art of good communication, especially via email. I've learnt about design and more about grammar and punctuation than I ever wanted to know (it's not my strongest suit).

I value my role in supporting missionaries. It isn't always easy to remember—when you are fiddling around with words and punctuation, or having a discussion about the selection of a photo, or setting deadlines, or following-up writers or editors—that through this magazine, I am potentially helping over 900 people. I am so grateful to God for guiding me into this ministry. It's not something I planned, though it is something I vaguely dreamed about

It turns out that I was right—God did call me to Japan with my particular gifting in mind—it's just that it was a little "on the edge of ordinary" and not at all what I expected.

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