Balancing Being an Editor and Author

Updated on March 1, 2024.

Not all great authors can be editors, but great editors tend to be decent-enough authors. At least, that’s the crux of many discussions I’ve had with developmental editors and story coaches both on- and offline. I was a writer before I ever thought about picking up the mantle of a professional editor. But I wrote for myself and a small, focused audience (read: fanfiction readers).

It was landing my first developmental editing client and a catch-up call with a writing coach connection that changed all that.

With two current works in progress, and at least five more ideas currently percolating, I’m shocked at how easy it has been to put my own words to paper for the past few months. The writing bug bit me way back in sixth grade. It lay dormant for five years, came back around for another stint, and then left again. Being halfway into my career as a technical editor, this time I thought it was for good.

The core of being a good developmental editor, though, is understanding not only the principles but the techniques of what good storytelling looks like. It’s not just educating authors on these principles, but guiding them with concrete, relevant examples. To do so, I have to study the craft of writing as much as they do, if not more. And in doing so, I’ve seen my own storytelling techniques evolve. Let’s explore a couple of those evolutions from both sides of the creative aisle.

Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash

Editor Frame of Mind

I never considered how many stylebooks, usage manuals, and editing guides there were until I left University of Washington-Seattle’s Certificate in Editing program. Here’s a short list of examples:

  • Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition
  • Associated Press Stylebook, 56th edition
  • Government Printing Office Style Manual, 2008 and 2016
  • Garner’s Modern English Usage
  • The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation
  • Amy J. Schneider‘s Chicago Guide to Copyediting Fiction

That’s nothing on the number of corresponding dictionaries I flip through on a daily basis. (I had to look up “mantle” and “bingeing” for this article. Thank goodness for that Unabridged Merriam-Webster Dictionary online subscription.)

When I get into the editing zone, these kinds of references are my lifelines to ensuring I can justify any corrections or suggestions I make to a manuscript, proposal, or handbook. The biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past few years is that it’s not about knowing all the answers. It’s knowing where to find them. Whether fiction or nonfiction, technical or nontechnical, the English language is constantly changing. I’ve made it my priority to have as many tools as I can pack on my bookshelves so I can find those answers.

Photo by Thom Milkovic on Unsplash

Author Frame of Mind

Between 2020 and 2022, I bought 37 craft-related books, both editing and writing. In 2023 alone, I am loathe to admit I have purchased 74 craft-related books, primarily writing-centered. I joke that for every craft book I read, three more get added to the TBR list. Apparently, that is a much more accurate ratio than even I assumed.

I’ve been asked why, after being so fervent that I did not and would never write original fiction, I’ve delved so deeply into the process. Easy? After that developmental editing project, my writing bug showed up faster than Marvel fans when Avengers: Endgame hit theaters. I figured, if this person can do it, surely I can, too.

Craft books like Structure Your Novel by K.M. Weiland and The Secrets to Creating Character Arcs by John S. Warner were the two books I recommended to my client after my first read-through of her manuscript. I told her I would be reading them right along with her. When I got through them, I had the wildest epiphany:

“Maybe I should read all those craft books I bought after all instead of having them up as a pretty background image for my consultation calls.”

In knocking out two to three of those books a month, it’s no wonder I decided to go all in on becoming an author. The nonfiction book series will be more of a calling card, establishing credibility as a professional editor. My fiction novellas (series and standalones) will be the other side of that coin.

Photo by Syd Wachs on Unsplash

I read for two reasons:

  1. Enjoyment
  2. Education

Reading a great fiction book as an editor truly brings me joy. I love being able to point out the major turning points, how and why the characters make the decisions they do, and the style and voice the author puts on the page.

As a writer? I’m in awe at how easy they make it look, how they use those turning points and character decisions and pacing to keep readers engaged from the first page.

Balancing the two isn’t easy, that’s for sure. I have to actively turn off my editor brain when I’m drafting, and (somewhat) actively turn off my writer brain when I’m reading. To be able to not only see both sides of the book editing process, but participate in it? I wouldn’t change it for anything.

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