A notion exists that editors can’t be writers. Why, though, can’t editors be writers? Some people try to explain the impossibility by stating that editing other people’s work all day results in a weariness that precludes the writer from writing. It’s a valid point, but it’s worth pondering whether a person who writes professional copy or repairs automobiles all day can go home and write poetry or fiction. Can that person? Usually, people say yes. Why, then, can’t the same be said of editors?
Perhaps it’s the changing of mindset that seems impossible. Editors view writing from a different perspective than writers. It’s true, but what of it? Writers have to be able to revise and edit their own work, too. They may need the aid of an editor at some point, but they should be able to make critical decisions on their own. Dean Young, in The Art of Recklessness, puts it this way:
But the greatest trauma, the necessary wounding that any poet must undergo, is the detachment from her own work…We must risk a loss of passionate connection to distance ourselves from our work, to grow a little cold to it in order to revise, in order to look at a poem as a series of decisions. Why this and not that? We must develop an ability to read our work skeptically.
How are those questions not the ones the editor asks of a writer? If those are the questions, why not let a writer be an editor? The writer knows the questions she asks of her own work, and she knows she must ask them of other writers.
Then again, editors may think they can’t be writers because, for some strange reason, an idea of the full-time creative writer persists. It’s an odd myth; very few fiction writers and even fewer poets write novels, short stories, memoirs, or poems full-time. They didn’t in the past, and they rarely do now. Novelists and poets have jobs. They have lives. Their living and their livelihood often are essential to their creative pursuits. Without those things, their well runs dry. They encounter the blank page more and more often.
Maybe, though, editors can’t be writers because of fear. It takes strength of character to edit the work of another person and not succumb to pettiness or to fear about one’s own writing. The editor might be tempted to stop writing or to stop helping other writers. To give into that temptation is to lose both those things; Annie Dillard says in The Writing Life, “…the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
Is it true that editors can’t be writers? Perhaps. Perhaps it’s also true that editors can be writers. The statement “editors can’t be writers” isn’t one-size-fits-all. It’s a general statement that may or may not be applicable.
Image: Mad African! (CC BY NC 2.0)