January 29, 2009

The Joy of Editing

Every once in a while, I'll come across someone who writes well enough (and whom I know well enough) that I offer to edit their stuff. This could be copy editing or something much more substantial. The usual reaction is, "You're a writer. Why would you want to edit something instead?"

The answer is that I like editing. In fact, I might just like it more than writing. Writing is exhilarating, don't get me wrong, particularly when it all just flows, but editing is something special. Editing is making a piece of writing all it can and should be.

When I'm editing a piece, I'm doing everything I do as a writer (except facing down the blank page) and more. I'm anticipating where each sentence, each paragraph, the work as a whole is going. In a sense, I'm writing the story as I read it and comparing the two versions in my head, word by word, scene by scene, argument by argument, to decide which is better.

When I'm editing, I'm looking at every letter and punctuation mark while, at the same time, keeping track of how all the pieces fit together and support each other to make a whole. I'm watching how long everything takes to make sure it doesn't lag while still checking that each word fits the voice of the narrator. I'm listening to the rhythm of the writing while building a picture of the action to confirm that nothing moves in impossible ways. I'm striving to maximize clarity of language and grammar while preserving the idiosyncrasies that identify the writer. I'm working to make the piece conform to both reader expectations and the writer's intent.

Reading back over all that, I feel as though editing should be impossible, a classic caterpillar's dilemma, but when I'm doing it, it all just works.

Does that make me the world's best editor? Uh, no. But it does make me a pretty good one, and that means that I make a difference by editing. I make the world a little better, or at least a little more readable.

I'm very happy to say that I have a new editing project in the works, something that will let me make more people's writing just that little bit better. We're not quite ready to announce, but it's been a long day and I needed something to cheer me up, so I'm letting myself anticipate. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it.

Yes, looking forward to editing.


Anonymous said...

I can attest that a) Stephanie is an outstanding editor and b) the new project is very exciting.

Stephanie Zvan said...

And c) Greg is really ready to be able to talk about the project more broadly.

george.w said...

A friend of mine is married to a freelance editor, and they often find clients are doubtful about the cost-effectiveness of editing... the first time.

Waiting to see what the project will be!

Stephanie Zvan said...

George, of all the things I do, I really think editing is the hardest to explain. I took a stab at it here, but I'm not sure I'm really satisfied. I got some of the process, but I really didn't capture the results. Of course, some of that is that editing should be invisible in the final product, so it's really hard to tell people who haven't worked with an editor anything more than, "It will be your own ideas and voice, only more so."

Thanks for the enthusiasm on the new project. I promise, we'll be letting the world know as soon as it's ready to unveil!

Anonymous said...

I always say that, as an editor, my job is to make my job invisible.

I love what I do for the exact reasons you describe. Great post!

Stephanie Zvan said...

Thanks, Nicole, and that's it exactly on the invisibility.