How writing helps me as an editor

Lady seated at a table - George Romney
Lady seated at a table, George Romney, 1775 or later

I’ve always liked to write. I wrote stories as a child, and even dipped my toes in some amateur poetry in high school and college (that will never see the light of day). In the last year or so, I’ve tried to pursue a more regular writing routine to keep my creativity at the forefront. I have found that in this stage my writing process has become more challenging and fulfilling at the same time. Here’s why.

It connected me to a community

When I decided that I wanted to keep up a writing regimen, I knew that I wouldn’t keep up with it if I tried to do it alone. (I’m a fan of accountability partners.) Luckily, I found some kindred folk with similar goals. We meet regularly for a small chat and sometimes help each other or give each other feedback. We recently held our first read-aloud event and I shared a story I had written. I never find sharing something personal with a crowd of people particularly fun, but I definitely felt better for it.

It helps me give better feedback

An empathy with writers is extremely useful for editors. Having taken a turn in this sometimes grueling, sometimes awkward writer’s seat offers me some of their perspective, which helps to craft feedback that is more relatable to them. Not only does it help me to cast my feedback in a friendly and encouraging way, but it also helps me to speak to the nuts and bolts of writing, especially the ones that I myself have toiled with.

A few months ago, I shared some of my writing with a few aforementioned kindred souls and braced myself for a feedback session. In reality it did much less damage to my ego than I feared. It was encouraging and helpful, with full credit to the friendly people that gave me feedback. But I try to always remember that squirmy feeling when I edit someone else’s work.

It helps me turn off my editor brain

One common side effect of constantly tuning in so closely to the mechanics of language is that you tend to analyze all the language around you. You will start noticing typos on menus or awkward wording on signage and feel an urge to make a query to someone. But then you quickly realize you won’t be paid for that work, so the scratch has to go un-itched.

In a similar way, I have noticed a tendency to edit myself as I write, as in the very moment that I am trying to put words to paper (or screen). This, as you can imagine, is not very conducive to the creative process. Editing inhabits a very precise, judgmental mental space, where the act of creation requires more organic, unprejudiced conditions. I used to be able to write freely for stretches of time. Now, I struggle to fill a page due to my constant back-spacing and rewriting.*

But the more often I practice writing, the easier it is to switch mindsets and just let the words fall out of me, however clumsily, without over-analyzing what I’m writing. I think creative thinking is something that can benefit everyone.** It’s a muscle that should be kept in shape. It’s not essential in my daily work, but I want to be ready to use it when I want, lest I hurt myself in the process.

The biggest lesson I have learned for writing–and many other new things in life–comes down to this: just get on with it. I am a classic over-thinker. While it has served me well in some cases, I have also found it can also drive a person crazy. If you want to write, just write. You can edit later.


*For anyone else struggling with the Jekyll-and-Hydeness of writing and editing, I recommend reading Susan Bell’s The Artful Edit.

**But let me clear that I don’t believe everyone needs to be a “creative”. Numbers people, please help me with my taxes.

By hsd-editorial

native English editing and training services

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