Now, this may seem an odd question for this very blog! One that’s written specifically for writers, and mostly addressing the nuts and bolts of the craft. But since I get emails all the time from folks interested in becoming editors, and since writers have no choice but to edit their own works before engaging a developmental editor, whether writers make good editors becomes quite germane to our process!
Full disclosure: I came to this endeavor from pretty much the back door. Editing wasn’t even on my radar screen when I penned my first novel. Or my second.
But a funny thing happened on the way to publication of those novels.
I had joined the DFW Writers’ Workshop, oh those many decades ago, in order to hone my craft. Where I learned oh-so much about the tools and skills that go into all of this. Then, once my first novel rights were purchased, I had the invaluable experience of working with a wonderful editor from the publishing house.
Oh, my, the skills I learned! It was all quite an eye opening. And why is that?
Because things look very different from the “other” side of the desk.
Novelists pursue their stories and characters, following them as they journey through the plot. That first draft really isn’t much of a draft at all now, is it. It’s a big blob of information about people and events. And usually far more information—especially about the characters—than should go in the book. I.e., so much of what gets down first is actually author’s notes.
But then comes revision. Then comes learning the craft. And while so much of that can be done with writers’ groups and how-to books, by far the best way to learn it is working with a great developmental editor.
So once I had, the world literally opened up.
I could “see” not only what needed to happen, but why, and how, and when, and . . . well, all of those skills and tools that make this process doable.
The writers’ group I was in was a read-and-critique group. And one thing that occurred on the side was we passed full manuscripts to each other for insight and critique.
What happened was: We all found I had a knack for digging into what was working and why, and what had fallen and why, and how to fix the issues. So in short, my friends piled manuscripts on my head!
Which I loved.
True editing is something akin to taking apart a very complicated clock, and then putting it all back together again. It’s dealing with the minutia while keeping a sharp eye on the whole. Trees and forests, you know 🙂
Editing is both an art and a science. The latter in that the skills and tools can be learned. The former comprises the same creativity that goes into writing in the first place.
So in the course of writing my own books, I fell in love with editing as well.
Most writers tell me they hate editing. Lol. But, the very best publishing-house editors I know are writers themselves. So the short answer to do writers make good editors is that they make the very best ones.
You either love the written word, or you don’t.
And who loves words more than writers?
Now, the flip side of this coin deals with editing your own work.
You’ll hear often that no one can do that effectively, but I disagree entirely. You absolutely have to be able to edit your own work—to a point. If not, that big blob you have on first or even second draft doesn’t reflect the story and characters you intended to write. Oh, those are there to be sure, but so buried even the writer himself can’t pull them out!
The workshops and conferences and how-to books help. You start to see the big picture, even if you aren’t exactly in it yet. So these do help.
But they also only take you so far. Every great novelist has worked with a great editor. That’s what takes you to the next level. That’s what causes everything to finally jell into success.
Once, that publishing-house editor took writers through the process of publication. But now, a manuscript has to be pretty much camera ready before submission. The days of publishing-house editors taking on a manuscript that needs a lot of revision are over.
Daunting for writers? Yes. But still quite doable! The very best method to achieve success is to write, learn your craft, write, learn your craft. And then, work with a great developmental editor to propel your book over the heap to publication.
So, do writers make good editors?
They make the very best one!
What have you learned about editing as you journey through your writing career?