Writing Is Necessarily a Collaborative Endeavor

Creative Commons photo.

By “necessarily collaborative,” I’m talking about the relationship forged between the writer and the editor. The irony, of course, is that I don’t have an editor for this blog! It’s just me out here floundering with my one good eyeball trying to catch mistakes and check for coherency.

Editors make your writing better because of that double-checking factor and fresh perspective. I’ve been writing professionally for about six years now, and since I wouldn’t consider it “professional,” I wrote prior to that for college newspapers for about five years. In 11 years of writing under editors, they always made my writing better, even if it was just a few tweaks for grammatical and clarity reasons, but also, the big changes that brought more focus and meaning to a story. Or the editors who brought a fresh perspective before I even came to the keyboard, i.e., “Consider approaching it this way.” To the latter, I still think about the Opinion editor at Miami University’s student-run newspaper, The Miami Student, who suggested I turn my weekly column inward rather than keep doing external political and social pieces. I still think about that suggestion because it was brilliant and a useful, needed evolution of my column. Such introspective writing has stuck with me ever since.

Heck, teachers in college and high school also often acted as editors, and of course, made my writing better.

I can’t imagine having written, and continuing to write, professionally without an editor (although, in my current role, they aren’t an “editor”) being my helpful writing partner. Because that’s what we’re talking about, right? Writing is often depicted as a solitary, lonely even, endeavor, but the best writing is indubitably a collaboration. Rather than thinking of writing as the work of solitary genius, I think it’s absolutely the case that the best writing is the result of two brains melding together over one vision for a work of art.

Two recent examples have given me cause to think about the brilliance of editors: 1.) At work, my boss edited my draft press release for an upcoming event, and absolutely made it better; and 2.) An editor at an online literary magazine, a magazine has accepted a creative nonfiction piece I submitted, sent me her edits on my story prior to publication, and absolutely made it better (including an edit suggestion to actually remove a digression I had in the story, or put another way, to kill my darlings; I gleefully did because she was right).

That process of getting constructive feedback and edits on a piece of writing and knowing instantly that such feedback and edits have made my writing better? That gets me jazzed. That gets my juices revved up. I love that part of the writing process! That’s why I also enjoy helping, hopefully, to make someone else’s writing better, too. For example, I was a professor’s assistant in a Journalism 101 course, and was tasked with helping an international student make his writing better. I hope I did because I had a lot of fun doing that. My sort of preface whenever I try to help someone’s writing is that I’m not that well-versed in grammatical rules or spelling, but I like to think I can be helpful with overall structure, flow, clarity, and so on. Or like with anything else, I know what I like to read, so that preference can inform my edits.

Even though this part of the writing process fires me up, it doesn’t fire everyone up. In fact, a well-known, at least in online political bubbles, flared up where Glenn Greenwald lambasted his editors in a kerfuffle at The Intercept, an organization he co-founded. In one email exchange I believe, Glenn remarked with astonishment that in his entire writing career, he’s never been edited, insinuating that he doesn’t need to be edited at present. He split from The Intercept not long after. Agonizingly, he thought anyone trying to edit his work was a outrageous censor rather than a helping, guiding hand!

It’s not just Glenn, either. Arguably, one of the pitfalls of becoming a well-known author with a lot of books under your belt is that those authors tend to move away from this collaborative process (whether thinking they don’t need it, or the editors being afraid to properly edit). I would argue that all writers, successful ones or not, could use an editor. We can’t escape the biological fact of our brains, and how awesome a fresh brain being brought in is to improving our writing.

One of the problems, I surmise, with the romanticized view of the writer as a solitary figure producing genius on an island of his own making, is that necessarily creates undue hubris. It makes one think what spills from their brain can not possibly be made any better by another brain, and that such collaboration will make it worse, at that.

When I was younger, I, of course, grafted my idealism onto the romanticized view of writer as a solitary figure because that’s how I wanted to be. I wanted to be the writer in the cabin producing works of staggering literary genius untethered to the world. However, the older I got, the more I learned the value of collaborating with an editor, and how they could improve my writing.

Writing is collaboration. Writing is humility. Writing is killing those darlings you held so dear. Writing is thick skin. Writing is grace. Writing is openness, not just of yourself to others, but with yourself by yourself.

I could add a few more in there, but I think you get the gist. Enveloping those ideas into your approach to writing and trusting the collaborative process doesn’t detract in any way from an attempt at a “work of staggering literary genius” or some such. That an editor edited your “work of staggering literary genius” doesn’t make it any less genius, but perhaps even more genius!

There is good reason at the end (or sometimes the beginning) of a book, fiction or nonfiction, the authors in the “Acknowledgements” shout-outs a dozen-some people that helped bring the book to its final fruition. I’m always astonished when I see how many people it takes to make a book reach such a final form. Only an arrogant fool would close their book with an Acknowledgements section that stated simply, “I, and I alone, produced this. Thank you to myself.”

Thank you, editors, without whom, us writers would be far worse off. (Did I use “whom” right there, editor?)

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