The Joy of Editing

For me, one of the most satisfying aspects of my work is seeing students begin to appreciate the editing process. There is so much pleasure to be had in making one’s work better. Truman Capote, author of the classic In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, once said, “I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” (If you’re wondering what scissors have to do with writing, writers used to literally cut and paste text, before Word came along with virtual “cut-and-paste”). Writing, in fact, is mostly about rewriting. Another great writer, the French novelist and Nobel Laureate Anatole France, said, “You become a good writer just as you become a good joiner: by planing down your sentences.” That act of planing is what makes writing feel not just like an art but also like a craft that one can excel at, when discipline is applied.

When my student writers write their first drafts, I always caution them that they mustn’t get hung up on making these drafts great or even especially good. It’s better to just get something down, send it on, let the collaboration of writer and editor begin, and grow the piece that way. The best thing for me is when I see a student care as much about his or her piece as I do. And that’s something that I see not that infrequently, I’m pleased to say.