In the writing world, there is a hierarchy. The writers are on the bottom. Above them are editors, who tell the writers what to change. This is backwards. How many good writers has Big Edit destroyed?
“Pish posh,” you might say. “You’re one to talk. Your grammar is wronged, your metaphors are blunt bricks, and your similes are like a hot needle to the eyeball. Your infinitives are split, your participles are dangling, your spelling is eroneous, your cliches are old as time, your sentences are repetitive, and your sentences are repetitive. Your concepts appear to have been plucked from thin air with no foresight, hindsight, or insight. If anyone is in need of a good editor it is you. And you are ugly.”
Yes. I’ll grant you that. That is beside the point.
. . . .
[W]riting and editing are two completely different skills. There are good writers who are terrible editors. (Indeed, some of the worst editors are good writers!) There are good editors who lack the creativity and antisocial personality disorders that would make them great writers. This is okay. This is natural. It is thoroughly unremarkable for an industry to have different positions that require different skill sets. The problem in the writing world is that, in order to move up, the writer must stop doing what he did well in the first place and transition into an editing job that he may or may not have any aptitude for. It is impossible to count how many great writers have made the dutiful step up the career ladder to become an editor and forsaken years of great stories that could have been written had they remained writers. Journalism’s two-step career path is a tragedy, because it robs the world of many talented writers, who spend the latter half of their careers in the conceptual muddle of various editing positions.
. . . .
Go find a story published a few years ago in The New Yorker, perhaps America’s most tightly edited magazine. Give that story to an editor, and tell him it’s a draft. I guarantee you that that editor will take that story—well-polished diamond that it presumably is—and suggest a host of changes. Rewrite the story to the specifications of the new editor. Then take it to another editor, and repeat the process. You will find, once again, that the new editor has changes in mind. If you were a masochist, you could continue this process indefinitely. You would never find an editor who read the story, set down his pencil, and said, “Looks fine. This story is perfect.” This is because editing is an art, not a science. To imagine that more editors will produce a better story is akin to imagining that a song by your favorite band would be better if, after the band finished it, it was remixed by a succession of ten producers, one after the other. Would it be different? Yes. Would it be better? I doubt it. The only thing you can be sure of is that it would not be the song that the actual musicians wanted it to be.
When any industry fills itself with middle managers, those middle managers will quite naturally work to justify their own existence. The less their own existence is inherently necessary, the harder they will work to appear to be necessary. An editor who looks over a story and declares it to be fine is not demonstrating his own necessity. He is therefore placing himself in danger of being seen as unnecessary. Editors, therefore, tend to edit. Whether it is necessary or not.
Link to the rest at Gawker and thanks to Karen for the tip.