Writing vs Editing

My journalist friends consider writing and editing to be different skills and very distinct parts of the creation process. Sure a writer looks over their own materials and changes words, cut extraneous sentences and re-crafts passages which just don’t feel right, but turning it over to an editor is a specific moment. The creation has reached a certain point and it’s now ready to be put in the hands of someone who will read it with a neutral mindset, a dispassionate glance and an eye towards the audience. The editor doesn’t try to make the writing fit her worldview, just focuses the author’s words and make sure it works within the context of the magazine, newspaper, book, etc where it’s being published.

I don’t know enough people in either profession to estimate how many people could do both jobs, or whether editors make good writers but not vice-versa. I also don’t know whether one group thinks they are superior to the other or they just live amiably side by side.

But I think the writing vs editing distinction is metaphorical and applies to my world.

Product managers start out as writers and the best ones develop strong editor skills although they’re the type of editors who assign story ideas in addition to scrub copy.

Managers are editors but sometimes you get one who thinks they’re still a writer. You know when you send a document to someone for a review and they completely redo it to reflect their point of view? That’s writing, not editing.

But sometimes when you’re asked to be an editor, it’s helpful to indulge in writer roleplay. When asked to review a presentation I don’t start by thumbing through the slides and giving notes on each one. I look at the topic and then write my own outline of what I’d cover and how I’d order it. Then I provide feedback not only on the contents of the current presentation but what might be missing (but not necessarily their hypothesis – I can disagree with portions of someone’s presentation and still help them make it better). By answering the question of “how would this look if I did it,” I’m able to go beyond wordsmithing. And I learn about myself too because the gaps between what I would have done and what actually is in the document teaches me something.

Many venture capitalists I know are proud and talented editors. One told me that I wouldn’t be a good VC because I still want to be a writer and the writer-editor VC (aka player/coach) is largely a myth.

The best professors I’ve had are editors.

The editors I admire used to be writers and can still write the hell out of something when they need to.

My mother is an editor. My father is a writer. I think it’s reasonable to generalize that writing is a male dominant trait and editing a female one.

I used to be a very good writer and an average editor. I’m now an increasingly good editor but sometimes I just want to write. And I get nervous that if I don’t write frequently, I’ll lose the skill.