Writer vs. Editor

(That title is “vs.” as in “compared to,” not as in “battling it out in the UFC cage.” Usually. Hopefully.)

One of the most intriguing water-cooler conversations I’ve had in the Lerner editorial department was a couple years ago when a colleague asked me, “Are you a writer or an editor?”

This could be a terribly boring answer—and story—because obviously, I work as an editor. And my answer is that I’m an editor. But the truth is, each of us editors is a pretty good writer too. We all probably did a fair amount of writing before arriving in our current positions, whether it was filling journals and writing stories up through high school or writing for a publication or a book publisher. But the question is really about which you are more—which hat fits better and which role comes more easily. And the answer is about more than attention to punctuation (though that’s certainly part of it).

So what makes an editor an editor? The Open Notebook blog tackled the question with aplomb in their recent post “Are you an editor or a writer? Part II: The editors.” Please, please, go read it, for it is spot on:

One of my favorite bits comes from Deborah Franklin, an independent writer/editor, who notes that an editor is “part therapist; knows how to talk friends (or writers) through tough spots.” Indeed, if you’re the friend or relative people turn to when they need support, help interpreting a conversation or situation, or especially when they need to figure out how best to say something difficult to a boss/friend/spouse/etc., you might make a great editor.

Of course, we work with texts as much as we work with the writers. We try to coax a book into what it wants to be, what the writer wants it to be, and/or what (we think) the audience wants it to be. Laura Helmuth, science editor at Slate, sums it up about perfectly in saying, “An editor’s job is to make writers sound better, sound more like themselves.” 

We are lucky to work with extremely talented and dedicated writers on Lerner books, which—I agree with Laura Helmuth—is really the best part of being an editor. As she notes, “When [good writers are] performing, you have the best seat in the house.”

(Are you left wondering “So then what makes a writer a writer?” TON tackled that question too: http://www.theopennotebook.com/2013/01/15/should-you-be-a-writer-or-an-editor-part-i-the-writers/. Which one are you?)