Why You Need Editors

Thumbnail image for Margaret Anderson, photo by Man Ray.jpgThe evidence is overwhelming that someone has gathered up the world’s editors and placed them on a ship to sail around the globe, over and over, all by themselves, never to dock again.

How would you like to be author of that boat’s daily newsletter, or its menus? (“No, I beg to differ, our style requires two Ls in “fillet”!)

Just as bad editing drains the life from a living thing as does as any fanged character on Alan Ball’s True Blood, good editing does the opposite. Sometimes that means as little as a kind word to a nervous scribe, or a swashbuckling challenge, or a left-field query, surely between equals.

One editor, of course, is always enough.

Readers may recognize the Man Ray photo above of Margaret Anderson, not the character played by Jane Wyatt on TV’s Father Knows Best, but the founder and editor of The Little Review, who with lover and coeditor Jane Heap first published, in serial form, James Joyce’s Ulysses. I think it my duty as a typical example of that hybrid monster of journalism, editor-writer, to quote from My Thirty Years’ War, Anderson’s memoir of time spent with the likes of Stein, Hemingway, H.D., and D.H. Lawrence under lapis lazuli modernist skies. 

Does this editor protest too much, or not enough?

I was having a marveolus time being an editor. I was born to be an editor. I always edit everything. I edit my room at least once a week. Hotels are made for me. I can change a hotel room so thoroughly that even its proprietor doesn’t recognize it. I select or reject every house seen from train windows and install myself in all the chosen ones, changing their defects, of course. Life becomes confusing. … Where haven’t I lived?

I edit people’s clothes, dressing them infallibly in the right lines. I am capable of becoming so obsessed by the lines of a well-cut coat that its owner thinks I am flirting with him before I’ve realized he is in the coat. I change everyone’s coiffure — except those that please me — and these I gaze at with such satisfaction that I become suspect. I edit people’s tones of voice, their laughter, their words, I change their gestures, their photographs. I change the books I read, the music I hear. In a passing glance I know a man’s sartorial perfections or crimes — collar, cravat, handkerchief, socks, cut of shoulders, lapels, trousers, placement of waistline, buttons, pockets, quality of material, shoes, walk, manner of carrying stick, angle of hat, contour of hair. It is this incessant, unavoidable observation, this need to distinguish and impose, that has made me an editor. I can’t make things. I can only revise what has been made. And it is this eternal revising that has given me my nervous face.

Thumbnail image for Jane Heap.jpg

Me, I would delete that last sentence at least, maybe the last three.

(At right, “The Little Review” coeditor Jane Heap. Cut of shoulders seems fine.)


  1. says

    Cool post. I’m the editor of an arts magazine written by artists. I see a strong role, still, for editors – especially in a world where everyone is a journalist. I’m certain that I should spend more time with strunk and white, but I also know that as an editor I have helped over 100 artists craft read-able articles about their own work. I lament the passing of professional arts journalism; I think the future of professional arts editing is bright. Would love to hear what you think of that… I’m submitting my magazine for consideration in a couple of competitions. you can see it at: http://www.bourgeononline.com

  2. says

    I may be one of the few creative writers who is in awe of editors and look forward to working with a good one. All you others SPEAK UP! (And editor would probably have cut the caps,) Editing work is intrinsic to my creative process and always makes me see my writing much more clearly.
    After working with a particularly fantastic editor on my first novel I sent her a card and in it about 100 little confetti sized pieces of paper with punctuation marks on them as thank you.

  3. Bonnie Winkelman says

    Though I am not a professional editor, I am in awe of those who are. Over thirty years ago, when I was in college, it was an honor to be an assistant to the head newspaper editor. I felt pride when refining text that would be a handheld piece of communication. What has happened with ‘the media is the message’? Current media communications lack the professional quality of years ago. Typographical errors are abundant in print and online. It is with great dedication (and an addiction to proofreading) that I began to send letters to publishers. Ben and Jerry’s, Apple (on their text edit page), TimeOutNY (could not spell Broadway)….. just a few which I found disturbing.
    I am over fifty and in college typed each page with care. Now I find errors and would love to get back into the field, but my competition is spell check software. I wish I could agree that there is a future for editing, but twitters and text messages sent for speed.

  4. mugsey macadoodle says

    Abowt to retyre and a nartzlettrs nut, I have jus siened up for an onlyne Prrfreeding and edditting corse.
    I am mutch enkorridged by the ebuv posts.

  5. Thomas Beck says

    I’ve been a newsletter editor for many years (any time I join a group or get a new job, I always end up editing the newsletter). I’m also a born editor, for which status there is a simple, infallible test: when a born editor meets someone for the first time, his or her immediate first thought is, “What can I get this person to write for me?”

  6. Tim Matteson says

    Case in point:
    “Just as bad editing drains the life from a living thing as does as any fanged character on Alan Ball’s True Blood, good editing does the opposite.”
    as does as???
    Like a fanged character on Alan Ball’s True Blood, bad editing drains the life from a living thing. Good editing does the opposite.
    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  7. says

    The character musing does seem to be a little self obsessed! Saying that my friend is a film editor and watching how long it takes for him to put together 10 seconds of image is agonisingly slow!