Can an Editor Also Be a Writer?

Yes. Here’s why being a “sometimes writer” makes me a better editor.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Acquaintance: “What do you do?”
Me: “I’m an editor and sometimes writer.”

That’s been my response for a few years now.

Editing is my main gig. Most of my work over the past decade has been focused on editing. Most of my clients use me for editing, not writing.

Still, there’s never been a time in my career when I was doing only editing or writing. The two are inseparable.

My first job after undergrad was as a reporter and staff writer for an industry newspaper. The team was so small—me, plus another journalist—that he and I also proofread each other’s work.

As an editorial intern at Food52 in NYC, I would regularly write and line-edit articles. (You can view my posts here.) At Well+Good, I line-edited five articles a day and occasionally pitched ideas for travel tips and essays.

When I began my role as copy editor at Time Out, my daily responsibilities revolved around editing. But it was simple to pitch an article idea to the editors of each vertical—they were only a desk away, and everyone was encouraged to contribute to editorial brainstorm sessions. Sometimes vertical editors needed all hands on deck to write a feature, or their regular freelance writer wasn’t available and they were desperate for help.

So, while I was at Time Out, I wrote blog posts and theater and restaurant and hotel and bar reviews, and I contributed to features. (Plenty of magazine copy editors occasionally write something—for instance, The Atlantic’s copy chief, Janice Wolly.)

Later, as a freelancer, I routinely wrote case studies for a client who then asked me to developmental-edit other writers’ case studies because mine were strong. #humblebrag

In the freelance world, a huge emphasis is placed on niching.

New freelancers are told that the best way to attract clients is by choosing a niche—the one thing you’re an expert in (or say you’re an expert in). Advanced freelancers advise that choosing a niche is key to charging more money because you can claim to be an expert, the best in the biz in that one thing.

Consequently, people looking to hire a freelancer are told to avoid jack-of-all-trades. It’s a red flag if a freelancer claims to be good at too many things.

I agree—to some extent.

But I firmly believe that being a writer makes me a better editor.

By writing, I remember the writer’s perspective. I’m reminded of how frustrating and tedious the writing process can be and how much effort and dedication it takes.

More important, I recall what it feels like to receive criticism of my writing. And that makes me a more empathetic editor.

I aim to be sensitive, clear, and specific in comments to writers and authors because I know what it’s like to receive disrespectful, vague, ineffectual feedback on writing I worked hard to produce.

As a writer, I appreciate constructive criticism on what could be better in my work, and positive feedback floods me with motivation. It gives me the fuel I need to get to the next draft. And that’s exactly what I want to inspire among my clients, authors and content producers alike.

When I polled other editors on Twitter, 42.9% said they too also write, while 40% of editors said the same in an Instagram poll.

Of course, I’ve met excellent editors who simply don’t like writing.

But I feel that it gives me a competitive edge and makes me more valuable to my clients. Plus, I enjoy exercising the writing muscle!

So, in honor of Freelance Writers Appreciation Week (Feb. 13–19), here’s to all the other editors out there who also write.

To get to know me a bit better, and for more copyediting tips, follow me on Instagram @pristine.editing.services, Twitter @PristineEditing, and Pinterest @PristineEditing. You can also sign up for my quarterly email newsletter on my website, or do so by requesting my free style guide template!

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Jaime L. Brockway

Copy editor with 8+ years’ experience. Former National Copy Chief of Time Out North America. Semicolon lover, despite what Kurt Vonnegut said.