Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Editors and Editing

I have begun (again, I was sidetracked by reading Talyn) reading The Forest For the Trees, a book written by an editor at Simon and Schuster with advice for writers. Interestingly, it's not a book about learning to write, as the author makes clear from the beginning. The book is more about how a good editor can motivate a writer to write as well as about the editorial process itself. So far, it's been fairly interesting, but I'll provide specific insights later on.

What I've found especially interesting is that apparently the woman who wrote the book has had much success as an editor at a major publishing house, but has not found success (nor has she really attempted to find success) as a writer. You would think that in order to recognize good writing -- or make good writing better -- you'd have to be a very skilled writer yourself. Yet, off hand, I can't really think of any big-name editor who is also a big-name writer. When you think about it, writing and editing are really two separate skills. Writing requires a great deal of creativity -- you are creating something from nothing, after all. Editing, on the other hand, requires the ability to see all the different ways in which a given piece could be presented, and choose the way that will make the piece the strongest it can be. The editor does not do anything original at any point in the process. She does, however, have to "see the forest for the trees." Editing is the art of seeing a multitude of paths simultaneously, something most writers never have to do. The author of this book discovered early in her career that she had the talent for making the writing of others better, so that's where she directed her career. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less.

Editors, then, are not magical demigods who are looking for people who can write as well as they can. I think in the back of my mind I've always thought of editors as "master writers," the next step up once you have proven that you have mastered the craft of writing. That's really a misconception. Editors have an entirely different skill set from writers, and recognizing that fact will go a long a way in improving your relationship with that breed!

1 comment:

Minibull said...

I definately agree with this. I can come up a ton of great ideas and also help tie someone else's story together, but I have a hard time sitting down and pounding out the words themselves. I guess I'm more of a 'Why?' person instead of a 'How?' :-).