Writing versus editing: What’s your pick?

Published: April 17, 2013

I am a doer and a fixer. When I write, I am a doer. When I edit, I am a fixer.

As a writer and editor, I have a tough time deciphering what I like doing more: writing something from scratch, with my name under the headline, and the promise of a growing readership? Or ripping someone else’s work to shreds and rebuilding the story.

Writing is like making a dish from scratch (not reporting, where you basically state facts): you choose the ingredients and the recipe. You are responsible for the end result. The credit is yours as is the criticism. But editing is like fixing somebody’s half-cooked dish. You can renovate it, rebuild it. You can add a few additional ingredients and basically make it better. But it still has someone else’s stamp on it. Always.

I am a doer and a fixer. When I write, I am a doer. When I edit, I am a fixer.

A dear friend called me the other day and asked,

“Are you enjoying editing? But you are a writer! Editing is such a thankless job!”

And I honestly didn’t agree with her.

The joy of fixing is unmatched. Something like, well, a non-platonic relationship. Often, the person we meet in our lives and fall for is a recipe that is almost cooked. Almost. And so are we. Each one of us is an editing project, for no story is perfect, as is no human.

It also depends on the discretion of the editor. Because often, according to the writer, what he/she wrote is perfect. But what does the person editing it feel? Is it perfect to him/her?

Mostly not. Yet, some stories are a joy to edit. Often, the really messed up and hard ones. The ones that suck the most energy out of you. Provided that the story did have some substance. In the end, that story smiles back at you. Polished. Poignant. You look at your own work in admiration, inwardly comparing it with what the original looked like. Something like spouses look at the happier or more groomed versions of the person they married, years down the lane.

Writing is beautiful. It is cathartic. But it is also pure narcissism. Editing, though, is tougher, because you are the unsung hero here. I think I need to do both.

Read more by Farahnaz here or follow her on Twitter @FarahnazZahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

A writer and editor, who has worked as a Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works as a media trainer and communications practitioner. She tweets as @FarahnazZahidi (twitter.com/farahnazzahidi?lang=en).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • ss

    boring …Recommend

  • T M

    I wish I could edit !
    Polished. Poignant.


  • Usman

    Try to become an editor of a reputed engineering or medical research journal. Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    Well, if you are doing it for a newspaper or a magazine, it is fun. But if you do for a medical book where you do not have a clue of things, it is horrid. Secondly, editors have to face the author’s wrath if something goes wrong.Recommend

  • Manoj Joshi India

    I to a large extent agree with views of the writer. As few really appreciate the editor for his or her good work. In other words the role of the editor though very important is faceless and at times if not thankless a difficult task. However editing or moderating a writing is an art in itself and inspite remaining an unsung hero the editor is the real driving force of any publication.Recommend

  • cautious

    Unfortunately some of the the articles written by ET staff show little signs of professional editing – some articles aren’t even spell checked, titles don’t match up with article content, pictures occasionally don’t match articles, and the content and structure of many articles are shallow – wouldn’t pass basic journalism course. I suggest that top Editor be required to read the entire newspaper each day and meet with staff to discuss what’s working and what was obviously blown.Recommend

  • Aaqib

    I am also an editor of a local daily in Indian Kashmir. I like it but at the same time it is really a tough job. Most of the times it took me days to edit someone’s work. Editing is not just to remove the grammatical errors in the report but it is how to make that piece/report more beautiful and more lucid for readers. Recommend

  • Parvez

    I liked the way you showed the difference between the two disciplines and also the strong bond between them, all in this short piece.
    I may be wrong but I think editing for a newspaper or short magazine articles and editing a book be it fiction or non-fiction are two totally different aspects of editing. Also a writer is a ‘ creative ‘ creature, while an editor is a technician, both compliment each other.Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/bohotsaara Sarah B. Haider

    ‘Backstage idiot’ is what one of my teachers used to call editors! I call myself that, too. And yes, it is a thankless job, particularly when at one point of time you start suffering from ‘byline deficit syndrome’.Recommend

  • HS

    Lets start by editing the title of your article :) Hope it was deliberateRecommend

  • Sylvie Lamothe

    I feel and do exactly the same, but in French!Recommend

  • S

    The W should not be capital in the title. Just saying! And what’s your pick, like really? Really ET!Recommend

  • Shashank Venkat

    Really liked the last bit when you say writing is narcissistic whereas editor is the unsung hero! I am a journalist from India, who writes far more than he edits :-)Recommend

  • http://-- Talha Saleem

    liked this article, editing is really an interesting job………. editor really feels joy after his editing work.Recommend

  • HBA

    Liked your post and facing the same problem. i want to write and i love writing but i barely finds a theme to write on, the reason which compel to edit more than writing from scratch.Recommend

  • http://www.sumaiyahasan.blogspot.com Sumaiya Hasan

    HBA: to be a good writer, you should make your heart the author..you will never find a theme unless your heart finds it i.e unless your heart is really touched by some incident or some experience..i often face this problem, but when i really come to writing, i even forget to put punctuations because your thoughts easily and quickly fade away from your mind.Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    @Sumaiya Hasan:
    So true. And that is why authors need editors? Authors are like mothers they give birth; however, editors are like the village-folks who raise him.Recommend