My experience is that most editors could be writers; that many editors didn’t get the final degree in a subject and so would find it hard to get an academic post but are not a sliver less intelligent or informed.
I found this list by Deborah Franklin accurate:
- Is good at puzzles, at seeing the flecks of green in several scattered puzzle pieces and understanding that they fit together to form the green hillside at the top of the story/painting, not the puddle of green algae at the bottom. Is thoughtful and analytical; good at spotting holes in arguments and seeing through well-written hand-waving. A voracious reader.
- Is more of a team player than a loner. Sociable. Likes dealing with different types of people (e.g. the infographics expert and the physics writer and the psych reporter).
- Is verbally articulate on the phone as well as in person. Can write a good, conversational email that makes the writer feel understood, appreciated, liked, and motivated to make the story better.
- Is part therapist; knows how to talk friends (or writers) through tough spots, and doesn’t hold their insecurity against them.
- Has good parenting skills. Knows to first point out some specific things you like about the writing and the story before being negative about things that don’t work. Not a pushover; knows the value of discipline, and knows how to deploy it.
- Knows that only one part of the job is working with the writer. Doesn’t mind being interrupted; is organized, can multi-task gracefully, and is able to quickly switch gears during a tough day.
- Finds meetings tolerable, maybe even fun.
- Can manage up as well as down in an organization. Understands how to represent the reader in fiercely defending the story, whether to the writer, the top-editor, the fact-checker, the copy-editor, the art director, the photographer, the illustrator, the social media czar, the publisher, or the advertising director. Is honest and kind and empathetic. Not a stick-your-finger-in-the-air-to-see-which-way-the-wind’s blowing kind of manager who just tells people what they want to hear. Rather, a calmly firm and compassionate listener/leader who has a strong enough ego to make and defend a good argument, but not an ego so big that it sucks all the air out of the room.
- Prefers/needs to work hours that are more easily contained. Editors often work long hours, too, but it is easier to walk away from the job at the end of the day as an editor than as a writer.
- Does not mind that the writer often gets the credit for a collaborative effort. Is able to take a parent’s pride in a successful, beautiful, groundbreaking piece.