Writer vs. Editor

Once, many years ago, a former teacher and mentor of mine, Janna King, shared an amazing piece of advice about writing with me.  She told me that every writer has two voices talking to them through the creative process: the Writer and the Editor.  These two voices are loud.  They are often at war.  They each clamor for attention and the balance that we strike between the two determines the quality of what we write and whether we are able to write anything at all.

The Writer is that voice in us that comes up with stories.  It is the part that dreams and sees visions and that needs to get them all on paper.  It is the part of us that creates.  It is the part that loves every word, character, and line of dialog and just wants to keep on going and going no matter what.

The Editor is the voice that sits back and says “Now hold on one minute.  Is that actually any good?”  It’s the part that questions and second-guesses.  It’s the part of us that scratches out lines, spends hours staring at a blank computer screen and tries to think ahead.  And it can be the part of us that sighs, throws up our hands, and declares “this is complete crap!”

I go through long periods where my Editor takes over.  It tells me that nothing I write is good enough and I should just throw in the towel.  This is probably why I have about two dozen stories that have been started and then abandoned, some after a hundred pages or more.  I spend a lot of time second-guessing the quality of my work, mostly because the Editor in me wants it to be award worthy at all times, even when it’s a first draft.

My cousin Liza Gyllenhaal, author of Local Knowledge and the soon-to-be-released So Near, claims she doesn’t have an Editor.  She says that she writes all the time without bothering to consider whether what she’s writing is any good, and she’s convinced that no one else but her would be interested by half the things she does write.  However, Liza is published, I’m not there yet.  Hmm.  What can we learn from this?  That it helps to have worked in the publishing industry for 30+ years and to have friends in the business?  Well, that too … but no, WRITE!  Let that Writer get out there and do its thing.  No.  Matter.  What.

The key to writing well, as Janna used to tell me, was to listen to both voices without letting one or the other have too much say.  If we listen to the Writer too much then we end up with volumes and volumes of directionless fluff that isn’t any good.  But if we listen to the Editor too much we never write anything at all because we don’t think anything we write is any good.  The Writer and the Editor when looked at this way remind me of the proverbial angel and devil sitting on our shoulders.  Instead of being Good and Evil they are heart and head, “Go-go-go-go-go!” versus “Whoa, let’s stop and think about this”.

Whenever I feel the Editor growing larger than life, its weight on my shoulder pressing down and making me dread sitting down to work, I try to remember Liza’s lighthearted laugh when I told her Janna’s theory and her declaration that she doesn’t have an Editor.  I suspect she probably does, but I think she must have figured out how to keep it in its place.  I also think about one of my best friends who loves reading, loves stories, knows when she’s read a good one, but is utterly in awe of my ability to write anything, good or bad.  She is a teacher and a bit of a perfectionist at times.  She has a Writer in her somewhere, but more often I see her Editor making order out of chaos.  But boy can she tell stories to her class and her own kids!

I know I, and so many of my writer friends, have both the Writer and the Editor within me.  So come on, guys, let’s make nice and play together and create something wonderful!

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7 thoughts on “Writer vs. Editor

  1. My writer and I are currently on the lamb because we murdered our editor. He wouldn’t shut up always complaining about their and there and what not. Just let me write!

  2. My writer is currently in the process of overthrowing my evil dictator of an editor, but my hope is that there can be some sort of peaceful resolution rather than just an, “Off with her head!” I think I need bi-partisanship to lead this country.

  3. This is so true! My Editor has been far too talkative for the past couple of days. I am scheming ways to shut her up so I can keep working.

  4. My editor is currently on holiday… My writer is so giddy, she can’t seem to make a straight sentence. She just keeps peeping, scratching and acting like a damn chicken that is getting ready to lay an egg. Seriously, these girls need each other and they don’t even realize it.

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