December 3, 2010

Reading like an editor*

I was perusing comments on Twitter today and found a link to a great article at The Huffington Post: 5 Tips for Productively Editing Your Writing” (thank you to Victoria Mixon for alerting me to the post, which is worth reading).

Among much thoughtful, useful advice, author Delia Lloyd had this to say: “If you’re like me, you find writing the first draft of anything far more fun than slogging your way through the edit. That’s natural.”

Well, I’m an editor who is not a writer. The first draft of anything (including a blog post, thank you very much) seems to me a wormhole that I’d rather someone else navigate. It’s “slogging through” an edit that I enjoy, actually.

Is that a difference between editors and writers? Those of you who are both, what would you say?  

*I borrow this phrasing with respect, though without explicit permission, from Francine Prose, whose book Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them was recommended to me by an author I was working with; I do recommend this book to any editor or writer or reader else who has not already discovered it.


  1. Hi Kyra, I'm with you! Give me a draft to edit any day over a blank page. I'm doing more writing these days, and I'm always happier when I get to the editing stage, probably because I have more practice with that. I'm hoping the writing process will get more familiar with more practice. But man, do I have to practice a lot!

    It seems to me that writers are all over the map regarding what parts of the process they enjoy vs. what parts feel like the dentist's chair. As an editor, that means I'm useful to writers; and as a writer, that makes my own particular brand of hell seem less lonely.

    --Julie VP
    p.s. I heartily second your Reading Like a Writer recommendation--a thoroughly engaging read in its own right. It's a good resource for editors, I think, because the close reading Prose advocates helps us get inside whatever piece of writing we're editing, which makes our edits more useful to the writer.

  2. I agree with Julie that writers are all over the map. Some love the whole process--blank pages are pure joy. Others drag themselves kicking and screaming to the desk, beginning to end. I wonder if writing fiction is more enjoyable even in the draft stage? When you're writing for clarity and logic--essays, articles, blog posts--just getting the ideas down is a struggle. Successive rewrites usually mean more clarity. The challenge for editors is to figure out where the author is in the writing process.


  3. The blank page is not a joy for me, which I why I usually mull things over until the first bits are stable in my head before I start to physically write. And even though I like to let things get out of hand after the first page or two, I usually have an ending in mind that I'm nudging toward. But I do find it much easier to come at the text for an edit than for writing.

    The marinating step of the process isn't something that's typically taught formally, but it's one that I believe adds a huge amount of value to the work. For most of us, writing has to happen on deadline (I'm thinking of writing for school, work, blog post, etc.). I think that's one reason the blank page terrifies - it implies an unchangeable commitment. About a decade ago I took a year to focus on my art and decided my goal was quantity *not* quality. I bought a sketchbook of the nicest paper I could find and in one afternoon scribbled carelessly (and, I admit, angrily) on every page, then tossed it in the trash. That one action helped me make better art than any art class or museum visit ever did.

  4. For me it depends on the circumstances whether I enjoy starting out with a blank page or not. If I've done my preparatory process and I'm enthusiastic about what I'm writing, it can be fun to write. If I haven't prepared, or if I'm writing something I don't like much but have to write (as is sometimes true at work) then I dither and drag my feet and it takes forever and what I produce is not very good.

    What do I mean by preparatory process? I mean sitting and reading over any notes I have and thinking about what I'm going to do, then getting a good night's sleep. When I get up in the morning, I can sit down at the computer and the words will usually flow out of me. Something in my brain does a lot of work overnight.

    But if I don't have enthusiasm for what I'm writing, it is a slog no matter how I try to prepare.

    On the other hand, I really enjoy the editing process too. I like looking at what I have produced and cutting and polishing and rearranging. I love doing this for other people, especially when what the person has produced is in that almost ready place. The good stuff is on the page, but there are some hiccups, some places where it doesn't work, some things that need to be thrown out, etc. I love talking to writers about it and helping them move their work along.

    So, writing and editing. I really want both.