Editing as art form

I was several years into my career as a book editor when I realized editing is an art form, as much as painting or acting or writing. So, as an editor, that makes me an artist. How did this realization change how I edit?

More respect for my craft: If editors had a dollar for every time they hear, “So, did you just fail as a writer?” Editors are not failed writers, they’re editors. It’s a distinct way of working with words, and like any art form, the more you practice, the better you become. I looked for skill-enhancing opportunities that went beyond prestigious line items on a resume. I sought out mentorship, edited a variety of genres, paid for additional training, and created a fellowship opportunity by booking a residency at a local college.

A focus on making useful + beautiful items: William Morris famously said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Books are beautiful, and they’re also practical. They’re eminently useful in that they teach you skills and lessons about the world, they’re the perfect size to store in your home, and you can return to them again and again or share them with friends. Books are the quintessential useful and beautiful item.

Freedom to make creative choices: The joy and tragedy of editing is that it requires multiple passes over the same manuscript. There comes a point when both author and editor are tired of going over the same lines, and then the book is done. But before that point, and in those passes, what creative opportunities lie! The editor gets to ask “what if?” and together, author and editor explore artistic possibilities. If they don’t succeed, so what? They can work on it in revision, and they don’t even need to wait for the paint to dry.

Less pressure on myself to “be an artist”: Early in my career, I would be hard on myself for not pursuing a “real” art form, like writing or painting. Once I realized I’m already an artist, I freed up space for other art forms in my life. I have a book coming out in May, and I’m taking up painting in January.

How about you? What shifted for you when you realized your career is your art?

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