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Read like a…

In my class one of our goals is to learn how to read like writers.  I think this is something I do, but I’m not sure, because I’m realizing that a better way to describe what I do is that I read like an editor, and I don’t think editors and writers are quite the same thing.

I think when you read like a writer you’re supposed to be reading with an eye towards how the writer creates the effects in a piece – the sense of character  or of place, or the way the sentences pick you up and pull you along.  What tools does he use?  How does word choice heighten the impact of a particular sentence?  This, I think, is what it means to read like a writer.

Reading like an editor, however, is both more and less than this.  Less because it does not focus on what can be learned from the writer.  More because it looks for what works – and tries to figure out how to fix what doesn’t work.  Reading like an editor sometimes means spending more time thinking about the one awkward sentence in the book than the 100 pages of great writing.  What made this sentence not feel right?  Why does this stand out from the rest?  How could it be better?  It focuses, perhaps, on the art of problem-solving rather than the art of writing.

In responding to my classmates I mute the reader-as-editor voice because that’s not what the class is about – I don’t really want word by word feedback from them, and I’m sure they don’t want it from me.  I do try to pay attention, though, to my internal reactions to their writing – places where I automatically remove words or rearrange sentences, and I wonder if they do the same thing when they read my writing.

I think, too, about what it means to develop an author’s voice, and if there is such a thing as an editor’s voice.  It’s not a term I’ve ever heard a teacher or colleague use, but my own experiences editing and being edited tell me it does exist.  In my own editing I see patterns – strong likes and dislikes in word choice and sentence structure; in the editing others have done on my writing, I see personalities come through too – different likes, different dislikes, a sense of confidence or of timidity.  Our class starts work on revising and editing after spring break.  I wonder what they’ll think about the idea of reading like editors.

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