Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best.
Like every editor, I learn a great deal from the books I work on. Over the past twenty-plus years, I’ve enjoyed the best continuing education course I can imagine – gleaning practical takeaways and new insights on everything from why we have eight senses, not five, and how our brains are literally wired for creativity, to how to escape a locked car trunk, the secret to translating The Simpsons into Finnish, and colorful details about the bon vivant who invented the cocktail. I can happily prattle on about research that’s found cheese to be more addictive than cigarettes, why cirrus clouds look wispy, and how algorithms actually work (ideally there won’t be any follow-up questions).
But every once in a while, a book teaches me something different—something deeper. When I first learned that I would be inheriting a volume of heartfelt haiku paired with the author’s textured and intimate photographs, and editing it from the ground up, I knew that it too would be a learning experience. After all, I’d never edited a collection of poems, and with the exception of those posters in the subway, my regular exposure to poetry is more than a bit lacking.
What I didn’t expect is that the author’s words and images, and the process of immersing myself in them, would touch me so deeply, and open a window onto a new way of seeing the world.
It’s fair to say that Tyler Knott Gregson is a new breed of poet. Based in Montana, he’s a wedding photographer by day, a practicing Buddhist–oh, and an internet sensation. His first book, Chasers of the Light, was a national bestseller right out of the gate. His many loyal fans, hundreds of thousands in number and growing fast, follow him on Tumblr and Instagram for a daily fix of his poems composed on a vintage typewriter or hand-written on found scraps of paper. They’ve come to adore his beautifully honest, intimate words and his lush photographs that capture the fleeting moods and moments of everyday life.
Reading Tyler’s poems is a disarming experience. Very quickly, you begin to feel your defenses soften. That filter of skepticism we all have begins to fade. Suddenly you’re in the hands of a writer who’s willing to lay himself bare, tuning in to his feelings of longing, passion, loss, and hope, and sharing them on the page. Before you’ve had a chance to resist, he’s pulled you into his world.
From day one as Tyler’s editor, I was struck by his sincerity and purity of vision. This isn’t a flash-in-the-pan–a cynical internet celebrity making memes in his basement, or trading on his celebrity or good looks to rack up followers (did I mention he’s also incredibly handsome?). This is a generous and thoughtful writer who’s brave enough to reveal himself, in words and images, every single day.
Working with Tyler on the selection and order of the poems, I had the pleasure of immersing myself in his work, experiencing up close his rare gift for observing the miraculous in the mundane, and his unique ability to put his emotions into words and images, without filtering or censoring—and without rushing past the moment in a mad dash to get more things done.
While the experience moved me greatly, the editing process was also a bit unusual. Typically I connect with my authors’ words while sitting at a computer, communicating in tracked changes and comments in the margins. But not this time. Working with color print-outs of each photograph and poem, I spread them out on the biggest conference-room table I could find, and I began to physically move them around.
Seeing the book laid out this way brought me even deeper into the material–and was a lot of fun. By the end of the process, I knew we had a book that effectively draws readers into Tyler’s world, one moment at a time.
As the book hits stores, I’ll go back to my hurried ways, and my mad dash to collect facts and insights and cocktail party topics will continue apace. But I’ll try to hold on to that sense of wonder, and to find the courage to open my eyes just a little bit to the mystery and beauty all around us.
And I’ll look forward to working with Tyler on his third collection, coming out a year from now—another chance to learn, grow, and be inspired by an author who has the courage to share his true voice on every page.
Read more about All the Words Are Yours here.