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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Working among the Words

As an assignment for a class that looked at the job of an editor as a manager, I had the pleasure of interviewing a friend who was once an editor with management responsibilities. (The purpose of the class assignment was to find someone who has been an editor and manager.) My friend had some neat things to say about her process of editing, which I found illustrative of the process of crafting pieces of writing. Below are some outtakes from the interview. I hope you enjoy!

You could approach a topic from different points of view,” she said. “When I think about editing something, I think about it having a larger view of an issue. It’s not just writing an's getting to the vision.

About managing writers and others on her team:

What I loved about that was the creative process and the interaction with the reporters and the editors. Whether breaking news or long-form feature story, there is a different kind of serendipity for each.

My friend helped writers shape their work and enjoyed learning something new and honing a story “until the story means something.” Whether working with a graphic artist, photographer, or reporter, she said she became energized as she worked with individuals or with the collaborative, working groups, such as editors.

Working together, she says, a group’s creativity starts to explode and take over. She compares it to medical school, as residents make their rounds and discuss a patient’s situation as a group.

That’s what makes working for publications so wonderful. A whole group of people are collaborating and building on each others' best work.

She found herself helping people with their work by getting them to talk about a piece and giving them feedback, but without changing their work. The writer was responsible for re-working the piece, but developed patience as an editor and with the process of writing.

Without that approach, she says, writers keep “making the same mistakes over and over again. Instead, she recommends reflection and feedback. Her writers’ writing improved, she believed, after she spent time asking a reporter questions. A more creative and collaborative process because, she says, she doesn’t have all the answers—and doesn’t get them by sitting in a room with others asking, “what do you think this really means?” Instead, the writer “externalizes the writing and tells me ‘here's where I'm going.’”
As a manager, she did learn over time to make decisions. However, she also learned that a manager cannot be directive all the time and it is better to be a “creative collaborator.”
Growing up, she never imagined she would be working with words and editing the work of others.
I was amazed to think that people telling stories from all over the world, people call that news. An actual reporter saw that and wrote about it.

She doesn’t see editing going away and thinks that people who say editing is not necessary only need look at something that hasn’t been edited and compare it to something that has. She likened it to watching raw video versus a finished movie.

An unedited piece is often impossible to navigate, has no credibility, and is not efficient. I love having a hand in shaping how people navigate something. An editor provides the invisible hand to guide the reader.

Elizabeth King Humphrey is writer and editor living in North Carolina. She earned her MFA in creative writing from UNC Wilmington and is currently taking more writing and editing classes!

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