Writing is a craft. You cannot learn a craft and become proficient at it without doing it again and again. I will now make a controversial statement:
Writing is a process that can only be mastered by doing it. You cannot learn to write by reading about writing. You can’t learn to write well by reading well-written books. You can only become a good writer by writing. And editing. And writing. And editing. And so on, until you’ve nailed it.
There, I said it. Argue with me, if you’d like. I welcome your point of view.
Writers Hate Editors
Writers, typically, like to write. What they don’t like is submitting their work to editors. Lots of well-known writers don’t like editors. Here is the opinion of one of the world’s most popular writers, George R. R. Martin, tongue firmly in cheek, addressing CoastCon II in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1979:
If there were no editors in the world, writers would be very happy. They would frolic and play and publish every word they wrote, and they would have lots of money and lots of sex, since they would be very famous and very charming, having never experienced rejection. Their egos would fill up the world, their books would be everywhere, and they would mate furiously and produce lots of little writers….
Martin is joking. I think. No, I know he is because he goes on to praise editors and lament that their importance in the writing process never garners them credit or notoriety. Or lots of sex. (His opinion, not mine.)
Writers Need Editors
Martin’s tongue is still in his cheek, but less so, with this observation:
…editors can indeed be a source of frustration and anguish in a writer’s life. In most cases, that is not due to any active malice on the part of the editor. Often as not, the real villain of the piece is the publisher, but editors are the hatchet men, out there on the front line, and they are the ones who are forced to deliver the bad news and bear the accompanying karmic weight. Editors also are the source of most rejections, and writers hate rejections…
Writers and Editors Need Each Other
This is my favorite part of his speech:
A good editor tries to figure out what the writer was trying to do, and helps him or her do it better, rather than trying to change them into something else entirely. A good editor doesn’t insist or make changes without permission. Ultimately, a writer lives or dies by his words, and he must always have the last word if his work is to retain its integrity.
Yes, Mr. Martin, you’re right. That is what a good editor tries to do. At least, it is what I try to do. I refer you to an earlier blog post of mine, Editor & Writer, A Team:
I am not your enemy. I gain nothing by sabotaging your work. Excellence in the content and quality of your work is as much a reflection on me as it is on you. I ask that you receive my comments and suggestions in the spirit of fostering teamwork, and allow my editing skills to complement your writing.
What are your thoughts on the relationship between writers and editors? What experiences, good or bad, have you had? I'd love to hear from you.