Nurturing Craft in an Age of Content: An Interview with Katelyn Beaty
This is the fifth in our series of interviews with creatives who inspire us by staying craft-focused in a era of easy-to-consume, shareable internet content. Our aim is to explore the tension of art versus entertainment, empowering readers to find, nurture, and stay true to the stories inside of them. Enjoy!
Katelyn Beaty, author of the recently published A Woman's Place and the youngest and first female managing editor in the history of Christianity Today, is #careergoals--and overall #womangoals. We are really into the timely, hope-stirring message she carries and how she so boldly articulates it. As both a writer an an editor, she has mastered the craft, and she's here now to give you a peek into her process.
Upwrite: We're so excited about your new book, A Woman's Place, which tackles a really important issue in culture: what it means to be a woman. Tell us about the writing process. Did your career as a woman in the publishing industry inspire any content in your book?
KB: I certainly wrote from a place of being a woman leading in a traditionally male-oriented industry. At age 28 I became the youngest and first female managing editor in Christianity Today magazine's history. It's been exciting but also at times lonely. I wrote to encourage other women that their work matters not only for our institutions but for the kingdom. And I believe men and women alike are called to wield their skills and gifts for kingdom purposes. The idea of encouraging other women inspired me and kept me going when I wanted to quit writing and sit around and drink wine and watch reruns of Freaks and Geeks. By the way, having a book done and published is a wonderful feeling; the process of writing a book is horrible, and I would never wish it upon anyone unless they can't not write it.
Upwrite: It seems like the content you address in the book is something that you'll always be gaining insight in because you're living it--you are a woman. How did it feel to write about a broad and fluid topic like womanhood with the knowledge that your journey as a woman is nowhere near done?
KB: That's a great question. I tried to write with honesty and humility. This is what living and working as a woman has meant for me, but it won't necessarily mean that for you, and certainly not for all women. I tried to present an expansive vision of womanhood that at once acknowledged and honored the real differences between women and men, without making womanhood sound like a to-do list or a set of tasks. It's worth repeating: Women are humans, and humans are irreducibly complex. I also tried to write knowing that living as a woman will look different for me in different seasons, and that my views could even change over time. In my tone, I tried to strike a balance between conviction and openhandedness.
Upwrite: We're fascinated by the revision process and how it mirrors the constant growth and learning we face as humans. What was the editing process like for you, and how did inspire and challenge you as a writer and a person?
KB: The editing process was so much better than the writing process! I was grateful to have an excellent editor at Howard Books, Beth Adams, who believed in the project and took the time to digest it and offer firm and direct revisions. After I turned in my first draft, she basically kicked my butt and in a polite way said, "This isn't close." I always value direct communication and was inspired to make it the book I knew it could be and had to be. She pushed me to inject more of my story and personality into the project. That made for a more vulnerable but ultimately I think more engaging book.
Upwrite: As an editor, it must be hard to turn off your internal critic during the writing process to produce a "shitty first draft," as Anne Lamott calls it. How do you manage that tension as you form a story?
KB: Well, every writer has her process, and Lamott and I don't have the same process. I edit as I go. I'll write a paragraph and then reread it and start tinkering with it and making sure it connects to the previous paragraphs. And often I know what I want to say in my head before starting to write, whereas a lot of writers have to begin writing to figure out what they even think. There's no one way to edit, as long as the finished product isn't shitty, so to speak.
Upwrite: You're the youngest managing editor to ever have been appointed at Christianity Today. How did you get here, and what advice would you offer millennials looking for purpose in their vocation?
KB: I started at CT right out of college, at age 23 as a copy editor and quickly began taking on more responsibilities. I think I was given some authority from the get-go because I volunteered myself for extra work and actually completed it, so other staff knew I would put in long hours and was dependable. I would definitely encourage millennials starting out in their careers to put their heads down and get to work at the job that they have rather than flit from job to job in search of the one that gives them the strongest sense of fulfillment. Certainly there's a time in one's life and career to think through calling and long-term vocational goals. But starting out, you have to put the time in and pay your dues, so to speak. Before you "do what you love," learn to love what you do.