Toiling in anonymity

We can all name writers we admire. But can you name an editor?

Writers get the byline and the glory. Editors toil in anonymity. There is no Pulitzer Prize or Ellie for editors. Clark and Fry discuss this in “Coaching Writers,” chapter 5, “Models for Editors.” Make sure you’ve read the chapter, then let’s tackle the questions they ask at the end of the chapter:

Is it necessary for editors to suppress their own egos and work in the background? How, then, do editors have fun and gain satisfaction?

Is there such a thing as a typical “editing personality,” or is that a myth?



21 responses to “Toiling in anonymity

  1. I think in a way being an editor is working in the background. They are not the one reporting and writing the story. The writer deserves that byline. However, being an editor is a very necessary job. There has to be editors at a publication to make sure everything runs smoothly. Like the book said, they have to be there to make sure the writer is making the story for their audience, creating a sense of community in the newsroom, and building confidence in their writers. I think working at any publication would be fun, especially if you’re an editor. You might not get the byline, but you get the satisfaction of knowing without you that publication wouldn’t have been able to be published. You’re also the person who is always there for the writer. You have to help them with all of their problems with the stories as well as all of their little idiosyncrasies. You have to help them keep it together and we all know how crazy writers can get sometimes. I feel that helping a writer achieve the best story they can give would be very rewarding.

    I suppose that if you are going to be an editor you better like being a leader and answering questions. You have to also be able to know when to cut things out of a story to make sure your readers will like a story. I think there can be different kinds of editors, but one thing they should all have in common is the ability to work well with their writers. Like we have said before editors and writers have to trust each other.

    • I had not included trustworthiness and the ability as traits of a good writer but I am glad to see you did. I realize the ‘Coaching with Writers’ book has stressed this over and over again but I think it is good to point out that an editor’s approach must encourage a relationship based on mutual respect with his or her writers.

    • I agree that an editor must work behind the scenes and be content with receiving little to no credit for their work. However, editors do also play an integral role in making sure a publication runs according to plan. I also thought it was good how you mentioned that editors possess a necessary skill set rather than a necessary personality type. Editors can achieve their goals through different methods, but they all must work well with writers, build trust, and know how to communicate best to readers.

  2. I think it would be fair to say that not all great writers would be great editors and vice versa. It is probable that a great editor is a very good writer in addition to having certain character traits like humility and patience that allow them to help other writers succeed.

    Editors may not get the satisfaction of seeing their name on the byline; however, when an article appears in print they can take pride in knowing they have played a significant role in the quality of work found in the publication. Smart editors respect individuality and encourage idiosyncrasies of individual writers but they also leave an impact on their writers. As the chapter suggests, editors have a way of leaving their mark on writers. A writer might not realize it but editors previous advice plays a role in the voice at the back of a writer’s mind when considering a story approach. An editor plays an important role in helping the writer work to the best of their ability. Sticking to the book’s theme, an editor is like a coach. He or she may not get the fanfare when a home run is hit but without the instruction and support he or she provided up to that point there would be less the opportunities for success at the plate.

    In my opinion there is not a typical “editing personality.” I do think there are certain characteristics commonly found in editors. I also think that people have a variety of traits and experiences, which means a few similar traits are not enough to generalize a personality type of editors. When I consider editors I have worked with they are often good listeners, responsible, decisive, critical thinkers, strong writers and detail-oriented. In my opinion would be easier to identify a personality type not suited for editing than to limit an understanding the various personalities of good editors.

    • I totally agree with you that some writers wouldn’t make good editors. I think good editors also understand and respect what goes into the writing and reporting of a piece because I assume all editors at one point or another were a writer themselves. This probably helps them form a good relationship with their writers. I also agree with you that editors have to be quick thinkers and good listeners. An editor’s job has a lot more responsibility than it might seem on the surface of things.

    • One of the things that I found interesting about this chapter is the way editors leave an impact on their writers. It made me think about all the editors I’ve had, and how I’ve improved as a writer thanks to something they showed me. Even if my editor and I didn’t communicate verbally, through their edits and feedback I was able to gain something that I now apply to everything I write. I enjoyed reading about the writer who pictured her editor hovering over her and by doing so improved her writing. I think it’s also good to know what the editor expects, so that standards are set high and the editor is pleased.

    • I agree with your statement that editors get satisfaction by knowing they’ve helped writers get their story published. Unblocking writers, like the chapter says, is one of the most important aspects an editor can possess as everybody experiences writer’s block now and again. Without the editor there to build confidence in the writer, who knows if the story would have ever even made it to the front page. I know editors here at Drake have helped immensely in that aspect if I didn’t know how to phrase something or wasn’t so sure in my work.

  3. I think part of the job of being an editor is working in the background exclusively. They’re not out in the world gathering information to write about, and instead are waiting for the writer to do the necessary research to make a great story. Accepting the position of editor means accepting that your work will not be recognized publicly, and if this is something that doesn’t interest you, perhaps being a writer would be better suited.

    A good editor I think is pleased with staying in the background and simply being proud of a story once it was in print, knowing they helped coax the writer in the right direction. They know about the toils writers go through, such as writers block, and understand how to praise them in ways to get their confidence back up. To editors, this is rewarding in and of itself. Accepting writers for who they are, idiosyncrasies included, is a sure fire way of getting the best story possible, and is the most important duty of the editor in my opinion.

    Before reading this text, I would have jumped at the chance to say every editor is the same and their only job is to destroy my story with their red pen. However, this chapter helped to show me that there can be a variety of different personalities an editor can possess. Perkins, one of the greatest editors ever seen, used an approach that celebrated the individuality of writers and what they can achieve if understood correctly. Ellis on the other hand stressed getting ahead of both the writer and the story to ensure that confidence would be achieved down the line. Even though these two styles are a bit different, the end result is always going to be the same: both a pleased writer and editor.

    • I’m not sure if I can side with just one of the two different styles. I liked that Perkins improved his writers by motivating them, but I also think Ellis had good ideas to help her writers. I think it once again depends on the organization and the personalities of the staff. Maybe we should look into adding more psychology courses into the journalism curriculum. If we understand our writers well, we could be better editors.

      • I completely agree with adding psychology courses to the J program. I may be a bit biased as it’s my other major, but I really do think it helps to have an understanding of how others think, or respond to different forms of criticism. An intro to psych course could cover that. Also, I think any type of management experience helps a person form what I consider to be an editor’s ideal personality. It helps with leadership and learning how to coach others.

  4. I would agree that this chapter provided a great example of two different yet equally successful approaches taken by Ellis and Perkins. I think a lot of the professors at Drake approach editing like Ellis. In my experience forethought and incremental writing have always been stress and I have found it to be a great builder of confidence when writing.

    I find it interesting that you comment that it is “the editors job to work in the background exclusively” and await a writers efforts. In my opinion an editor does have their work recognized publicly. The editor is responsible for their writers and the content they allow to appear on behalf of the publication they present. People may not know an editor’s name but their role is synonymous with the publication, which is a very large responsibility.

  5. I think as an editor it is important to work in the background. While editors may not be fame in the public eye, they are imperative to writers. This chapter tackled the more psychological side of editing and it helped me understand that editors are more than people with red pens. They have to get inside the writer’s head and help pull out a story through psychological tactics, I had never thought about it like that before. I believe editors get their satisfaction through building stories with writers. When they read the end result they know they played a hand in making that piece of writing fantastic. Also, Perkins became friend and support system to many of the people he worked with. This may not be the most tangible reward, but when I think of fun I think of friends.

    I do believe it takes a specific type of underlying personality trait to thrive as an editor. An editor must be comfy living without the lime light. He/she has to be okay with constantly helping the writer build confidence. In other words, I believe an editor must be strong enough to hold a writer up. I believe this is the one universal trait of editors. Along with this trait many other traits can be present that make for great — but different editors.

  6. When you get into the position of being editor you should realize that publicly recognized glory isn’t part of your work. As an editor you should hold an intrinsic motivation. If you don’t, this isn’t the position for you. Editors have fun and gain satisfaction simply for the joy in the task of editing. They stay for the satisfaction of making sure a work can get published. Editors are editors. Just like Perkins noted at the end of the chapter.

    Although I would like to think most editors strive to keep their stylistic quirks out of a work they are editing, that isn’t always how it comes out. There are some editors that enjoy the detailed scene entrance approach, some that enjoy introductory quotes approaches, etc. Every editor has preferences, but they try to suit them to the story at hand if they are good editors. Just as the book says a proper editor, “Respects the writer’s individuality.”

  7. I think it is necessary for editors to work in the background. Even though we don’t praise editors as much as we praise writers, they’re just as important. Good editors are not looking for bylines, awards, or attention. Good editors want to help their writers improve. They want to serve their readers with a great story. They also want to improve the world of journalism. Editors are compassionate and aware that their anonymous work will help and change the lives of many. On pg. 52, Clark and Fry say “Perkins was a man of letters who loved editing, a person who could “strive for anonymity” and find satisfaction in helping others,” which is exactly what a good editor wants to be and they enjoy working this way.

    I don’t know if there is a typical “editing personality,” because the editors that I’ve worked with work in different ways. I also think that their editing personalities might depend on the publication, location, etc. Even though my editor’s editing personalities differ, they do demonstrate some of the values that Paula Ellis believes in. My editors avoid newsroom stereotypes, they offer specific criticism and they understand reporters.

    • I like what you say about editors shouldn’t care about a byline or award. They are there to help the writer and the readers. I think any good editor fully enjoys what they do and want to make sure their publication is something the writer can be proud of and something the reader will want to read.

    • I think it’s important as well that editors don’t follow stereotypes typically associated with them: that grammar and AP style is all that counts. There’s so much more to being an editor than those simple tasks, and this chapter really hit on the psychological aspect editors have to deal with. I liked what Ellis said about not being limited to one point of view. Editors need to be flexible, because each writer is different. Editing styles need to differ with each different writer encountered.

      • You make a good point that we’ve stressed in the class so far and in the readings– that editing is not merely grammatical correction with a red pen. In fact, Coaching Writers discusses extensively the psychological process of editing and how handling writers is key component of the job. From asking the right questions to building confidence, to tempering perfection with reality (pg 51), the editor has a complex job that can vary day to day and hour by hour. It definitely take a special person to be able to adapt to this job and help the writers, and the publication, reach the best possible level of work.

  8. I agree, an editor’s main concern should be to her/his reader, not to getting their name in the byline. I think overall knowing that they are doing a service to the readers, the publication and the writers. However, I believe it would be a bit frustrating at certain times, and if I was an editor I’d have to take a step back and look at the big picture to feel truly satisfied with my job choice.

  9. I think an editor, by definition, must find contentment in working behind the scenes to help others achieve their best product. Although it may be difficult at first to set aside the ego of the writer mentality, editors develop a different mentality as they progress through their careers. As Clark and Fry discuss in the chapter, an editor’s sense of satisfaction from their work can come through different venues such as developing writer’s abilities and building their trust. Editors also learn the validating art of revising and conferencing and can partake in extra exercises such as finding valuable reading materials for writers and leading them to confidence.

    Although the media has led me to believe that editors are always gruff, cold, no-nonsense personalities, after reading Clark and Fry, I’ve come to believe that there isn’t really one type of editing personality. Just as each writer has their own style, I think each editor is different too and approaches their work in unique ways. Some are supportive, warm personalities whereas some are less verbal, but each has the job of gaining the writer’s trust and coaching them to the best work possible.

  10. Rachel brings up a great point, its human nature to want to be complimented and receive some sort of tangible recognition for all of your hard work but. But it all comes with the responsibility of working behind the scenes as an editor, although it can be frustrating experience, “Coaching Writers” does mention taking care of yourself as an editor when toiling with the anonymity of your job. Saying that there is “a dark side to all supportive relationships but to focus on the good writers in order to make your job fun and enjoyable.”

  11. Taking on the responsibility of being an editor is all about working behind the scenes and being in the background. But the most important people are the ones who are unseen. This chapter really stressed the impact that editors consciously, and unconsciously have on writers, from passing out praise to getting in their heads. And I never knew how influential and editor could be in helping writers over come writers block. One of the best take away’s from this chapter for me was “writer’s block is a failure of nerve, so the first thing you have to do is build confidence.” And that’s where the fun comes in, working with writers to build convenience and watching them grow, all while embracing their quirky habits to produce great stories.

    I don’t believe that there is a typical “editing personality,” but I do believe that there are some people who are called to be editors, and others who were born to writers. But there may be collective types of characteristics that editors have in common. For example in chapter 5 it said that “Perkins understood the marriage of the human and literary sides of editing.” Writers may not be able to create that unique, yet important union. And on the other end editors may tend not to have idiosyncrasies method unlike writers do. “Coaching Writers” suggest that editors respect writers individuality and I believe editors deserve that same respect to be seen as an individual.

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