Saturday, June 18, 2011


True Editors Do Not Have Writer Envy

Thoughts about Salon writer Laura Miller's interview with editor Robert Gottlieb, "From Editor to Writer," April 26, 2011

I've heard something about most editors being failed writers. Of course I have no idea how true that superlative is. Did someone take a survey? I don't know. But what seems to be more congruent is that a true editor does not envy a writer or the writing process. A true editor is passionate about editing--providing publishing oversight, literary structure, encouragement, and support to writers as they pour out what has been placed in them.

Occasionally, I have been placed in the category of writer and frequently have been asked to write various types of pieces. I am a pretty honest person, so when asked about writing, I admit that I really don't like the writing process itself. I enjoy the research and the thrill of the chase, but then to sit down and pull all of that together is so hard! I have said this before on this blog: I admire writers. I'm in awe of them, even. Don't want their job. It's haunting. Or did I mean daunting?

Many of those who have asked me to write for them think it's strange that I don't like to do it--unless of course it's stream of consciousness like blogging or journaling. They say (don't know how truthfully), "But you do it so well." Um... Yeah...

At times I have felt misguided or even perhaps lazy because I haven't, won't, or don't further develop this "thing" that I do "well" but am not fond of. Then I stumbled upon a kindred spirit in the words of this interview with legendary editor Robert Gottlieb. You've probably already read it, but it was so well matched with how I feel I thought I would capture it and archive it on my blog. You'll notice I'll do this here from time to time like with the video interview with editor Karen Thomas.

Robert speaks my heart so perfectly when he said, "I don't like writing -- it's so difficult to say what you mean. It's much easier to edit other people's writing and help them say what they mean." He went on to say, "I'm utterly happy when I'm sitting and reading through 12 gigantic volumes of Dickens' correspondence. Making notes, underlining -- it's thrilling! When that's all done, and I've had the satisfaction of taking all this stuff in, then unfortunately comes the moment of horror when I have to digest all of it and figure out a way to start writing." Yes! So very true for me too!

Robert has an enviable resume, yet he still so delicately handles the creative renderings of hard-at-work writers. He advises other editors to do the same: "Your to be in sympathy with what the writer is doing and to try to help her or him make it better of what it is, not to make it into something else." Yes, this is all I want to do.

You should read this whole article and experience the heart of this legendary editor.

What are your thoughts about editors and writing? As a writer, have you experienced Robert's kind of purity displayed in an editor you've worked with?
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