Is Editing Fun?

A friend asked me the other day which I prefer, writing or editing.  I was surprised by the question, because most people think of editing as a harsh, burdensome process, envisioning a tight-lipped, hair-in-a-bun schoolmarm with a red pencil tortuously grading fifth-grade themes.  The vision in their heads is the antithesis of the free-spirited, happy-go-lucky fiction author tossing flowing words onto a page.

Let’s just say neither of those descriptions fits, or at least, they don’t fit  me.  But I have to admit, it is entirely possible that the authors I edit do see me as their worst schooldays’ nightmare.  The red text and comments of Word’s  Track Changes have replaced the red pencil, but the effect… well it may be worse.  After all, this is a screen shot of one of my recent edits.

Okay, so the words “brutal” and “harsh” have popped into your heads.  Those of you who know me are shaking your heads, thinking, “She seemed like such a nice person.  How could I have been so wrong?”  You’ll have to ask the writers I edit about that, but in my defense, I don’t edit to be nice; I edit to improve the product.

And that get’s me back to the point of this post. When I was asked which I prefer, it was the first time someone, other than my own editor, acknowledged to me that editing might be fun. It is.  In fact, it is a blast. I do not see the process of editing and working with the author as being adversarial or even as putting  screws to the thumbs of otherwise unbridled and unruly authors. And quite frankly, I wouldn’t work with an author who saw it that way either.  Rather, the editorial process is a collaborative, very creative endeavor, and much easier than writing the novel in the first place.

Let me explain it through an analogy in terms of pottery.  The writer has done the incredibly hard work of conceiving that such an object as a bowl could be created, and that it could be blue, and have a certain mass. The writer takes an undefined lump of earth, and carefully forms his vision, selecting the correct colors and figuring out the right temperature and length of time to fire it.  He stands back to admire his creation – and is proud because something like a “bowl” has never existed before.  Yet, it doesn’t match what he sees it could be.  And that’s where I come in as the editor.

As the editor, the writer hands his precious bowl off to me. I examine it to catch the feel for what the author wanted to accomplish. I check whether it can actually serve the purpose it was meant for, and I ask questions if I’m not sure.  Then, once I understand the piece, I work with the author, guiding him through the process to take the bowl from its raw, unedited form, to what it was intended to be.  Perhaps something more like this:

It is a rewarding, creative, mostly fulfilling process, and one of the reasons it is so much fun is that it is easier than writing.  The author has done the hardest work of conceiving that the bowl could exist.  I just get to refine it.

So, in the end, I can’t say whether I prefer writing or editing.  But editing is a lot of fun. But there is nothing like the thrill of finishing your own novel, working with your editor until you think you are going to bash your head against the wall, and suddenly see the perfect bowl emerge.  Suffice it to say, for now, I won’t be giving up either.

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