I have recently returned to editing after taking time off from the sport to pursue the world of writing. The switch has me thinking about the relationship between the two skills, how they differ, and how they are alike.
When I first started in publishing, a boss who shall remain nameless told me that writing and editing are like two circles. She held up her hands to make two distinct circles, touching but not overlapping. Over the years, I’ve found this not to be the case. Yes, editing and writing are like wearing two different hats, but they are both hats. Good writing and good editing require precision of language, a confidence bordering on arrogance, and an immersion in the world of the written word, be it print or digital.
When I write, I often feel that I have no idea what I’m doing. What’s the right approach to a story? Should I start it here or back it up? Do I tell it relatively straightforward or, as Emily Dickinson would say, “tell it slant?” Now, with my editor hat firmly on my head and feeling oh-so comfortable, I see that the writer and editor continually ask the same question—how best to craft a truly compelling (fiction or nonfiction) story?
Writing and editing aren’t two independent circles, but a Venn diagram. And what’s at the center of the diagram? Probably many things—anxiety, for example, and me. But also central to both skills is a deep respect for readers. Why worry so much over craft? Because we know readers of all ages are discerning, smart people. More than likely, they share with us a love for the right words in the right order. If we do it right, those words will carry themselves after the book is published. By that time, the writer and editor should be invisible, already working on how best to tell the next good story.