Writing vs. editing

It fascinates me how much the editing process intertwines with the writing process. I like to write a little myself, and it’s clear to me that my talents run most clearly to the editing end of the process. I’m fine with that–it better be, if that’s how I make my living! When I write, It’s very hard for me to turn the editor off. I can look at someone else’s plot and say that this part needs to be moved here, and that we need to lead more with such-and-such, and that we ought to streamline the pacing here… but it’s much harder for me to do that with my own work.
I suppose the main reason for this is that I spend so little time on writing my own fiction (though I’ve spent years writing nonfiction for jobs and school–newspapers, a trade magazine, grad school). I’ve been working on the same book since my last year of undergrad, about six years ago. I wrote a novella version of it for a class in grad school, which was a major milestone for me, but something still was missing about the plot. Back in November during Nanowrimo, I finally hit upon an idea to make it something beyond a generic high fantasy
retelling of a fairy tale. But of course immediately upon hitting my stride, I got computer problems *and* a lymph/sinus virus that knocked me out for months (culminating in sinus surgery). It was all I could do to get myself to work, so the writing had to be put off. (Reason #325 why I will never be a career writer: too many other things getting in the way that are more important to me, such as my job–which I love far more than my own writing. No excuses. Just reality. And that’s okay–but if someone reading this is an aspiring writer, hopefully this illustrates in the reverse how writing needs to be near at top of your list of career aspirations. For me, I find an equal choice between writing in my own time and doing the dishes or watching Lost.)
So I like to think I know how it feels when writers give me excuses for such-and-such happening–I really do!–and I really admire those for whom writing is their number one job priority. Juggling writing with other responsibilities that can sap your creativity really is a tough job.
I think that’s helped me, actually, to be a better editor. I understand that writers do hit blocks, and can be there for them. When an author hits a block, I can be the resource they need for coaching, a second pair of eyes to see mistakes and continuity problems, another creative mind to spark new directions–and even when my suggested direction isn’t t
he exact answer, I might help the author spark a new idea and see places that don’t work quite right for the reader.
I’m thinking of these things in tandem because I just sent off comments to an author for a book that really thrills me, and planned on spending some time this afternoon tinkering with my own story for a while. I was thinking about how good this author’s writing is, and how much I’d love to be able to write like that. But that even if I never finish my own book, it wouldn’t matter–because I’m able to be a part of creating books that I love, no matter whether I write them myself or not.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that editors are just frustrated writers (much like the saying that most lawyers are frustrated writers). I’d say yes and no, which probably contradicts my opening sentence that writing and editing are so intertwined. The writer part of me is both distinct from and completely intertwined with the editor part of me. I love telling stories, and I love reading stories, and when a story inspires me as this particular fairy tale has, I really want to tell a new story that incorporates it and makes it my own. The editor part of me just loves good stories and wants to help them be told better. It’s almost like having a dual personality when I write for myself–which one will be dominant today when I’m trying to write?–but then the editor/literary critic completely
takes over when I’m working. But deep down, the writer is reading the same stuff the editor reads, and saying, “Wow, they’re good.”