Editor Series: Erin Straza on her love for words
Erin Straza is gifted with words. She is currently the managing editor of Christ and Pop Culture and Christ and Pop Culture Magazine. She is the host of the popular Persuasion podcast. She has worked with Spread Truth Ministries, Christianity Today and other publications. She also has a great new book out: Comfort Detox: Finding Freedom from Habits that Bind You.
Dan Darling: Let’s talk about your calling. Has writing and editing been a lifetime pursuit or something you picked up late in life? And if so, what first interested in you in words?
Erin Straza: My love for words goes back to childhood—periodically I would read sections of the dictionary, and reading and writing were my favorite subjects. In my undergraduate and graduate studies, I focused on marketing communications, which combines writing and creative arts to communicate a clear, concise message for a specific aim or result. I applied these skills in corporate communications for a bit, then transitioned to university teaching. That’s where my interest in editing grew—grading student papers led me to the Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Style Guide for reinforcements! I devoured both of these, which unearthed my knack for editing and helping others improve their writing and messaging. Freelance work as a communications consultant, editor, and writer followed my teaching stint, which is what I have done—in one form or another—for the past 12 years or so.
My specific calling as a writer is a rather recent development—one I’m still coming to grips with, actually. It has grown over the past decade, starting with writing at my blog, expanding to articles for various outlets, and recently led to a book contract with InterVarsity Press.
DD: We live in an age when anyone can be published instantly via social media, personal blogs, book reviews, etc. Explain, then the value, of a good editor?
ES: It’s true: Anyone can cast some words out into the world! Writers who want those words to have lasting influence and maximum impact, however, will need to consider the medium as well as the presentation of the message. A good editor will help you craft your ideas to be well received and steer you away from potential blunders that will detract from the intent of the message. In addition, regularly submitting to the wisdom of an editor improves your writing skills overall. Although it’s not likely many of us will ask an editor to review our social media content before posting, regular feedback from an editor on your writing style, voice, and tone will help you communicate more clearly no matter the outlet.
DD: Is there a distinctly “Christian” way you do your work? In other words, does your personal theology affect the practice of writing and editing?
ES: The way I approach writing and editing is definitely affected by my theology. What I think about God and redemption and the Kingdom shapes my mind and heart, which is where my ideas and opinions originate. However, being a good editor or a good writer is a skill—it’s not something reserved for the Christian. I see it as my craft, a gift I am to develop and learn and tend. My faith defines my motivation for doing so: with my words and my sphere of influence, I want to proclaim the redemption of Jesus and the Kingdom of God to the best of my ability. This vision keeps me disciplined when the work is tough and presses me to be a better communicator.
DD: When you are making decisions about content to publish, how are you evaluating the writer, the piece, and the publication?
ES: As managing editor for Christ and Pop Culture, I review article pitches related to cultural analysis from the Christian perspective. I don’t have a rubric to assist in selection—it’s more of a gut call. Beautiful prose, quirky insights, unexpected arguments, nuanced persuasion—a pitch containing these elements is a win. I take chances on younger or inexperienced writers if the pitch is impressive because we need to hear from voices from outside the echo chamber. Another thing that weighs on me is upholding the mission of Christ and Pop Culture; we receive plenty of great submissions that are too devotional or instructive for our needs. The content we choose for Christ and Pop Culture must be distinct from what can be found at any other Christian publication or outlet.
DD: Who are some of the formative writing influences that have shaped the way you go about your work?
ES: Much of my writing and editing has been rooted and influenced by the team at Christ and Pop Culture. These people have changed me, either directly through editing my own work or indirectly as I’ve read and edited the work of others. The quality of writing and thought among this community inspires me (and often intimidates me).
Specifically, Richard Clark and Alan Noble have been instrumental in my writing, editing, and ability to wrestle with cultural happenings. The deep thinking of Hannah Anderson, my Persuasion podcast co-host, sharpens me. Jerry McCorkle, from Spread Truth, has grounded my heart in the all-consuming beauty of the Gospel.
Reading great writing has probably had the largest influence upon me, whether that’s theology, creative non-fiction, or a good novel. Madeleine L’Engle and Lucy Shaw, A. W. Tozer and C. S. Lewis, Philip Yancey and Brennen Manning, Kathleen Norris and Timothy Keller, Donna Tartt and Jane Austen—these are just a few of the thinkers whose works have had a lasting impact upon me as a writer. The more I read, the more I write and the better that writing is.
DD: What is one piece of advice you would like to give aspiring writers as they seek to get published?
ES: Be faithful to write what’s true. Meaning, write what you are passionate about, what you are learning about, what is challenging you. That is the message you have been entrusted to cultivate, and there are countless way to go about investing it. You are to share it faithfully in whatever sphere you operate in, whether that’s your small group, your blog readers, or your church. Be faithful to cultivate your message and invest in the people before you. Think of being published as just another avenue of investing, rather than it being the pinnacle.