What Type of Editor Are You?
An editor who edits, or an editor who writes?
You can divide any given population into two distinct groups: cat people or dog people; Republicans or Democrats; Neil Diamond fans or Neil Diamond haters.
For editors, it's no differentâ€”there are Writers Who Edit, and Editors Who Write.
Whichever one you are is irrelevant for the most part, except when it comes to dealing with writers. For fun, I sent out a mass email to colleagues past and present asking them which type of editor they prefer and why. They had some pretty interesting opinions â€¦ as writers often do.
Most writers want an editor who will improveâ€”rather than overhaulâ€”what theyâ€™ve submitted. Inversely, most editors want writers who are also mind readers. It ainâ€™t gonna happen!
â€śI prefer an editor who just tightens up and polishes what I've given,â€ť says June Dollar, who wrote a story for Southern Breeze about boiled peanuts, a Southern delicacy. â€śDon't take away from the flavor. The editor's job is not to rewrite the story the way he or she would have written it.â€ť
According to Mississippi-based writer and author Marlo Kirkpatrick, if the writer has done a good job to begin with, suggestions should relate to how a good article could be improvedâ€”â€śadding a sidebar, getting an extra quotation from a source with a differing opinion, etc.â€ťâ€”rather than suggestions or rewrites needed to correct sloppy work.â€ť
â€śA good editor knows how to present his ideas, not rewrite the piece or even present his/her solution,â€ť wrote Deb Burst, an award-winning, Louisiana-based writer. â€śPlain and simple, an editorâ€™s job is to edit--guide the writer to crank out the best possible copy in the writer's own voice.â€ť
Deb also made an interesting parallel between writing and parenting that I thought was especially relevant. Like both parenting and editing, the challenge is knowing how much is enough. â€śToo much [parenting] and you have a child with no self-confidence or sense of accomplishment, constantly told that their work is never good enough. Too little parenting offers no real direction and a child that craves knowledge and guidelines.â€ť
Kathie Farnell, a former lawyer who left those legal briefs behind to pursue freelance writing, says that vague instructions (â€śAdd more flavorâ€ť) donâ€™t do anyone any favors while yet another editorâ€™s oddly specific instructions (â€śTake out that commaâ€ť) didnâ€™t really provide much guidance.
As for me, I consider myself one of those â€śeditors who writes.â€ť Iâ€™ve worked with the other type of editor andâ€”like my colleagues have alluded to aboveâ€”the result was a good article that had my byline but I didnâ€™t really recognize it upon publication. Itâ€™s not a good feeling; itâ€™s like youâ€™ve been scolded in print.
If the writer understands the assignment from get-go then there should be very little work on the editorâ€™s part. Iâ€™ve queried writers about the usual things like â€śWhat does that mean?â€ť or â€śWho said this?â€ť or â€śneeds a conclusionâ€ť or â€śtake out that comma.â€ť But in the end, while it is your publication, it IS the writerâ€™s voice that should be heard. Otherwise, why would you hire them in the first place? Editing every story the way one person would write it will eventually result in a magazine more akin to a colorful textbook.
Deb concluded her e-mail with the following: â€śEditing, writing, and parenting is a lifetime of learning; we never really finish the gig, we just keep getting better. With a little luck we'll run into a handful of good editors/writers in this wordy kingdom and leave a legacy of brilliant copy.â€ť
I couldnâ€™t have said it better myselfâ€”and I only edited it for punctuation!
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