Writer, Editor, Reader

Olivia Quenneville

“Writing is also and always and already editing, and editing is also and always and already writing.”* Writing and editing emerge from each other; you cannot have one without the other. Editing is also and always and already writing because when an editor makes changes to a piece, they are writing what they think will work better. When editors make changes and suggestions, they are writing and re-writing. Editing still involves words and sentences, but it is about placing these words and sentences in a more meaningful order. Writing is also and always and already editing because writers make conscious decisions about what and how they will write.

We need a discourse about the connection between writing and editing because it is usually treated as a dichotomy. Writing and editing courses are separated: writers are called “writers” and editors are called “editors”; writers write and editors edit. But all of this is not completely true. Without a knowledge of writing and editing, one cannot write or edit – you need knowledge of both areas in order to understand either. Writers understand how to create with words, whether it’s feelings, images, or characters, and editors understand how to make all those things make sense. Good writers should want their work to be understood by everyone, therefore they should understand how an editor makes changes to make writing clear and cohesive. Writing and editing need to be understood as a single discipline because the combination of the two is what makes words meaningful.

Editing requires thinking that is far away from the piece itself. It is about looking at a piece of writing with one or many new perspectives which the writer may or may not have considered. When editing a piece of writing you must step back from a work and look at it as many parts that come together to formulate an idea or an argument. Each part is individually important, but they are also important as a whole, as they cohere to make the writer’s idea clear.

When we think with editing, we think about cutting, re-arranging, re-wording, and re-structuring. By thinking with editing, we understand that writing is not permanent, and it can be reformed indefinitely. Editing reminds us that our “final” draft may not be the “final” at all – it can keep changing as we continue to look at it in new ways. When a writer thinks with editing, she knows that writing is always unfinished, and editing makes writing almost finished; editing could go on forever, but it stops because editors cannot live forever.

Writers tend to become very attached to their work, which can be dangerous, especially if writers are also and always and already editors. When writers become too absorbed in the beauty of their own words, they cannot see other, maybe better, possibilities. They do not see the flaws in character development and flow, for example. They may not see how difficult it is for their reader to understand their writing. Editors know how to tear writers away from their work, but in a loving, encouraging, and meaningful way, to show them that there might be something better that they are not seeing themselves. Writers who are also editors need to know how to take themselves away from their writing and realize that their emotional attachments could be blinding. Writers who are also editors are comfortable with the fact that sometimes they need to put aside their emotions to truly read their own writing, not as a writer or editor, but as a reader. In this case, editors and writers must also be readers.

Editing is just as much as a social act as writing, but it is a closed conversation between the writer and the editor. It is a deep conversation, though, because through editing the work, the editor develops a deep understanding of the author and their work, and the conversations that happen between the writer and editor become a new language that only these two individuals understand. This conversation is only meaningful to the writer and editor for this reason. Editing needs to be social, because the whole act of editing is telling the writer how to make a work better, speaking with the writer about her strengths and weakness, asking the writer questions, and talking about how the work can be developed and structured. Through this conversation, both the writer and editor learn more about the process of writing, about themselves, and about their strengths and weaknesses as a writer/editor.

Sometimes the conversation between writer and editor is an inner-dialogue, happening within the writer/editor who is also, always, and already an editor/writer. This conversation is more difficult in some cases because of the deep connection that writers have to their words. In this inner conversation, the writer needs to step far away from her work so she can look at it from a new perspective. She needs to talk to herself as if she is a new reader attempting to understand the work.

Writers need to be able to switch between the two mentalities of writer and editor. She can be a writer when she is creating the story, developing characters, and painting a picture with words. She must be an editor when she is creating flow, making her words understandable, and making her painting visible to her audience.


*Professor Dunja Baus

About the Writer

Olivia Quenneville is a 21-year-old writer and musician, and is currently studying these areas in her fourth year at York University in Toronto. Olivia’s reflective writing style explores the stories and deeper meanings in the happenings of everyday life as she experiences them. Olivia is a part-time contributor to RideTheTempo.com, Junior and Associate Editor at York University’s journal of arts and literature, Existere, and Chief Editor of Short Stories at Inventio.

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