Are you a Writer or an Editor?

Are you a Writer or an Editor? January 22, 2013

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:

An editor:

  • 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.
"Then please explain your understanding of context. Or admit that you are just trying to ..."

Leaving (My) Church, by Kelly Edmiston
"That would normally be my solution but it bumps into Trinitarianism in an unfortunate way."

God: He, She, or Both?
"We know that the world is severely underdetermined by whatever we creatures can ever know ..."

Miracles? (RJS)
"Ok, but there is data about how the Trinity will eternally operate, which I've repeatedly ..."

Leaving (My) Church, by Kelly Edmiston

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Dan Reid

    Not buying it, Scot!

  • scotmcknight

    Not buying what, editor Dan?

  • Rodney Reeves

    What about a writer who happens to be a great editor? (wink*, wink*, DR).

  • Editors do God’s work. Really. If not for editors we would not have our scriptures. And I think they did an amazing job. And while most editors could be writers, I am living proof that not all writers can be editors. I wish I had an editor!

  • scotmcknight

    Rodney, good editors choose good authors!

  • RJS

    Or is it that good editors handle the meetings so that good authors needn’t?

  • Marshall Shelley

    You’ve nailed it, Scot. At least you’ve nailed what we are on a really, really good day.

  • Scot, you forgot a key practice of great editors: They play golf with their writers at least once or twice a year. I mean, really–how could you forget that?

  • scotmcknight

    Mark, well, that’s only the Exceptional Editor. Normal editors don’t play golf.

  • Dan Reid

    Don’t like meetings (unless they include food). Not a therapist. Hours are anything BUT contained. But I do like ideas and people who like ideas. Which means you’re okay, Scot! You too Rodney!

  • Jay

    At first I thought these were two descriptive categories describing different personalities or leadership styles. I’m not in the publishing business, but I saw my personality gravitating more toward that of the editor.

  • RJS

    All good meetings include food… and coffee.

  • Diane Reynolds

    I have had some great editors. They are up with librarians in my pantheon of saints. If I were allowed to redistribute some corporate profits, I know who’d get a big raise.

  • I’m always awed at the knowledge of the editors I’ve worked with and wondered why I’m the one writing the book. Verlyn Verbrugge at Zondervan is amazing.

    In order to be useful, an editor needs to be able stretch between the technical knowledge of the author and the general knowledge of the reader, which isn’t easy. Especially when the content is technical. If the author isn’t clear, a poor editor can miss the point and change the meaning entirely.

  • What about the difference between writer, author and editor? I was a ghost writer for 9 years and published dozens of articles under other names (I had a GREAT editor). It was OK because I was a partner in the business and I had a strong hand in framing the concepts. However, I wearied of writing about the same topics over and over. I don’t think I could be a ghost writer because I have too strong a drive to write my own stuff. Any thoughts?

  • Mike M

    I’m from Illinois where everything needs to be precise. And my wife is from Wisconsin where everything needs to be told, no matter what the the syntax. So yes, I am an editor.