I have hated all my life the saying “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” It’s horrifically insulting to teachers who are, in my opinion, great shapers of the future. It also doesn’t take into account the altruistic nature of teaching. I think it should be, “Those who can, love their discipline so much they want to share their knowledge, passion and talent with others so that they too can enjoy the subject as much, and thus they teach.”
That said, I’m feeling my own version of the quote coming on. Driving home last night I was struck by the idea that “Those who can, write. Those who can’t, edit.”
I can’t get the thought out of my head.
Since the moment I decided that I wanted to pen a novel I’ve called myself a writer. It’s become part of my identity and self-definition. When people ask, “what do you do?” I say, “I’m a writer.” Lately though, I’m feeling a little like a fraud.
I’ve done very little writing over a very long stretch of time and I’m wondering if I can still even call myself a writer. Do I still have the drive it takes to write a novel? Do I still have the love for crafting? Am I a writer, or just an editor?
I said it. I used “just” when referring to the job of editor.
Editing is essential, every author knows that. We probably do more editing than actual writing on a novel when all is said and done. Producing professional manuscripts requires no less, and nothing makes prose shine so brightly as removing the clutter around it that threatens to drown the beauty of the words.
Editing, though, is not creating.
It is not sitting at the computer grinding out page after page of prose and dialogue and action and heartache. It is not crafting something from nothing, rediscovering the world from an entirely new perspective or taking someone on a journey only your imagination could conceive.
Editing is taking a creation, yours or someone else’s, and working like a scientist on it, analyzing, weighing and measuring. You edit grammar, punctuation, inconsistencies, repetitions… you trim word fat, seek and destroy passive voice, axe adverbs and generally act like a writer’s assistant. A valuable and essential assistant, but an assistant nonetheless.
Have I become an assistant, instead of a writer?
I edit non-fiction for my full time job. In my spare time, which could be used for writing, I somehow find more editing to occupy me. First I worked on my crit partner’s fabulous novel, Wishstone. 100% worth every second of effort spent on it and I’d do that again and again. It was a whirlwind and exciting and I am thankful to have been a part of the whole process. But after that, did I get back to writing?
No. Instead I took on more editing to help me avoid writing. First some editing for Entangled Publishing, next 6 editing tests for Harlequin, each from 50-100 pages long. Then judging a writing contest. Now editing a paper. All good causes, but, is this what I’ve become? An editor, instead of a writer?
And at what point do I have to give up the belief that I am in fact a writer and settle for being an editor?