Thursday, December 04, 2008

Editing vs Writing

“I’m an editor who writes.”

That thought occurred to me Tuesday while sitting on airplane, reading a book. I’m not really a writer (even though deep down inside of me, I somehow feel it’s a nobler calling than editing). I think I’m a stronger editor who also happens to write well. But I feel more drawn to editing than writing. Those statements might surprise a few friends and former colleagues.

I don’t always feel like writing. Yes, I’ve heard and read plenty of writers who say they don’t often “feel” like writing but they force themselves to do it, anyway. I believe them. Sometimes I don’t feel like editing. Attempting to decipher a confusing thought or sentence and make it palpable – it can be as joyful as anticipating a trip to the dentist’s office. The joy, of course, is found in the final product.

There’s also joy in the process. Being an editor sometimes feels like working on a puzzle. You take this piece and that piece and shuffle these other pieces and twist this piece and clean up that piece – maybe you get the idea. This word feels wrong, but that word communicates the writer’s intent more clearly. This sentence is too long. Would you ever say it the way you just wrote it? What are you attempting to convey here? Why are you so attached to the word “very”? Seriously, you don't know what a compound modifier is?

The funny thing about being an editor is that you aren’t really working with your own words or ideas. Your job is to take someone else’s words and ideas and make them stronger, clearer, more effective. Sometimes I get a project where I need to add some “original” writing, but that’s the exception, not the rule. These days, my life revolves around helping other people communicate more effectively. And I’m OK with that.