Good editing means trusting yourself

While editing certainly involves a lot of hard skills—structuring a piece, making it flow, continuing to draw the eye onward—it equally requires understanding what the author is trying to do. It means listening closely to them, helping them see their options, and advising them on making the best decisions.

It doesn’t always look like that, of course. Ezra Miller likens editors less to technicians, and more to mystics, saying, “They see something that isn’t there yet, whether of their own work or your work, and not really knowing how to get there, they help you get there. Not really knowing how to get there, they help themselves get there.”

“If you are not strong enough to give the writer what he needs, which is your true, strong opinion, if you have to hold back, it is not going to work,” says Bob Gottlieb. He goes on to describe editing as an “intelligent and sympathetic reaction to the text and to what the author is trying to accomplish.”

In many ways, it’s the opposite of looking outwards to external metrics, research, or zeitgeist. It’s making sure you and the author listen to yourselves, and give your work the shape it needs. Think about Anna Wintour and Vogue. Adam Moss says, “It’s like trusting yourself in any context, which is that you get a little courageous, and you venture out, and you try something.”

Without building this trust in yourself, you’re going to be limited in how far you can go as an editor.

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