What Makes a Good Writer and a GoodEditor?

Saturday, April 25, 2015
Words by Elizabeth. Photo | Recite.com
I read a discussion on a forum about whether an editor needs to be a good writer. The conversation then moved into whether a writer needs to be a good editor.

As a writer and an editor and someone who teaches editing (and sometimes teaches writing), I thought about that discussion throughout this week. Even though I thought I'd write a different post, this is what stuck with me.

For the most part, I think that writing and editing are skills that must be practiced. In exercising those muscles, I’m not sure if that makes you good at either. But it does give you fluidity and confidence in those skills. Does the fluidity and confidence make me good? It may.

During times that I am more of an editor than writer, I find myself doubting my writing skills. When that happens, I pull out my journal and focus on writing more. The same is true for my editing. If I’m away from editing for too long, I find myself with a bumpy re-entry patch.

In my teaching, I find the more confident students are with a skill, the better they are with that skill. Although they may be exercising relatively new “muscles,” the more these students practice, the better they become. The better they become, the more confident they are. They become good editors or writers.

And their passions grow from there.

What I don’t see in discussions about whether someone is good at one thing or another is: What are their passions? Because I am a much better writer when I am focused on my writing, then I am more likely to feel that I am a good writer during those times. But I’m passionate about words and I’m passionate about communicating ideas.

When I’m editing, I balance my writer’s feelings and am sensitive to how a writer will accept the changes I am suggesting. When I’m writing, I try to provide clean copy so that the editor down the line will focus on what I’m saying and not mechanics. In these ways, I believe a good writer and good editor can interweave.

I do think that good editors can be sensitive to writers, even without necessarily having a writer’s sensibilities or a good writer. And some writers, who may edit, aren’t always adept to the skills of a trained editor.

I started writing and studied it because I enjoy working with words. When I had an opportunity to learn to edit from one of my mentors, I took it. I love both of them and, hopefully, I’m at least decent (if not good!) at one or the other of them.

I know for a fact that I’m passionate about both.

Elizabeth King Humphrey, editor and writer, lives in coastal North Carolina. She's going to go indulge in her passions for a little while. See you soon!


Sioux Roslawski said...

I guess if the editor is not a good writer, hopefully they can at least recognize good writing (from others) when they see it.

This post really made me think back on editors I've worked with, along with editors I might work with in the future. It was quite thought-provoking. Thanks.

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