I have forgotten how to write.
Originally published on inthemargins.ca on October 16, 2017.
Words are not just words: there is a difference when those words are your own, or when they are those of another.
This is a lesson I have learned quite saliently over the past year: that playing with the words of others, tuning, shaping, molding narratives that are not your own, is a whole different game than writing.
Just over a year ago, I became the managing editor of a publication for work. My responsibilities in that role include sourcing material, processing pitches, crafting outlines, reviewing drafts, explaining edits, formatting posts, and publishing final pieces. It is time-consuming, often all-consuming.
The work is not easy, but it is fun, it is valuable, and it is rewarding. It involves working with words every single day, for multiple hours; those words, however, are seldom my own.
Everybody edits: we all revise, review, and make changes to everything we write and create. The role of the editor, someone whose role is to give shape to the words of others, is more than just this process of revision we all do; an editor does not create her own art, but works to make the art of others more approachable, more accessible, more delectable.
I have been lucky to work with so many amazing editors during my writing career, whether they were copyeditors, section editors, managing editors, or editorial directors. Each one had a different role, and each one had a different impact on my writing; they were all instrumental in turning my words into art, or where necessary, turning my attempts at art into information.
Editors are, by nature, curious: the work of editing requires an ability to engage with a breadth of subjects, and an interest in learning more on each of those topics to ensure that each piece tells the best story possible. I have learned so much from editing — more than just proofreading, fact-checking, organizing, and commissioning content. I have learned how to listen to writers to truly understand what they are trying to say; I have learned to listen to readers to make sure our stories are the ones they want to hear. I have learned to be ever more curious.
I have so much respect for the work that professional editors do; in just over a year of doing the job, I know that theirs is a demanding (intellectually and emotionally) type of work. While I am getting better at it every day, I have no delusions that I am great at editing, and I know I have so much more to learn.
While I have been learning about editing, I have discovered something shocking: I have forgotten how to write.
After spending a good chunk of my every day working with the words of others, I no longer remember how to create words of my own. I struggle to carve out time to write, and when I do, I stumble putting pen to the page. I abandon texts before I can finish them, and when I do complete something, I’m more likely to destroy it before sharing or publishing.
(Many of you have most likely noticed a decline in frequency, and quality, of my posts on this website and have been too kind to tell me. Thank you — trust me, I’ve noticed.)
I don’t blame my writing frustrations on my time spent as an editor — if anything, it should help me be a better writer — but on my internal inability to reconcile the two roles. Others may be able to seamlessly switch from crafter to shaper of prose, but I struggle doing both at the same time. I have become used to dancing with the words of others; I have forgotten how to make my own music.
This will change, soon, as I transition to a new role on my team. With editing duties out of the way, I will have more space (in my day, in my head, in my spirit) to write. It will take time to get used to a writing practice again, and will take time to become as assured and prolific as I once was. I will remember how to write again — until then, I’m excited to keep playing with the words and ideas of others, and to share them with you all.