An Editor First

Am I an editor who writes or a writer who edits? It’s a question I have pondered frequently over a long career working with words. And one that took on new meaning in the past year as I began creating my own career path through eDitmore Editorial Services.

After a full year in which I have been free to search for my own assignments and follow my own interests and ideas, I am ready to answer that question confidently and contentedly: I am an editor. I also write.

Maybe I should not have even been asking this question. My first job out of college was as a copy editor for a daily newspaper; almost thirty years later, I have held a number of positions with editor in the title and none that labeled me a writer. But I never quit writing. In addition to hundreds of headlines and cutlines composed in a 10-year newspaper career, I have written articles, essays, reviews, devotionals, letters, press releases, newsletters, brochures, journal entries, and blog posts for magazines, newspapers, academic journals, church bulletins, websites, and Christmas cards.

Last year, when I was preparing to leave my job as the managing editor of an academic journal, I chose to give my new venture a name—eDitmore Editorial Services—that would play off my surname and highlight my editing skills. But I also made sure to emphasize my writing ability in all my promotional materials, and whenever someone would ask me about it I would always say it was an editing and writing business. Or sometimes I would say a writing and editing business.

A year ago this week, when I officially started my eDitmore work life, I had one editing job lined up and some hazy ideas about where I would look for potential clients. I wasn’t sure if I would have more success finding work as an editor or writer, and I wasn’t entirely sure which path I preferred.

But I soon began to pick up editing jobs from a variety of sources; one job led to another, and before long I wasn’t even thinking about applying for writing positions or looking to sell articles. And as I assess my first year and set goals for 2012, I realize that I am an editor first not just out of career convenience but because I love being an editor.

Many writers I know despise editing (and sometimes editors). But for me, editing calls for a blend of precision and creativity that I find invigorating. Ensuring that every period, semi-colon, and quote mark are in place in a multiple-page bibliography requires my full attention–and allows me to put to good use my sometimes overly developed eye for detail.

But editing also allows me to create in a way that I find just as fulfilling as writing a piece published in my own name. That’s because editing allows me to work in words, not just with words, to use language as my medium in the way that an artist uses watercolors or charcoal.

When I edit a document, whether it is a long, scholarly book or a short press release, my goal is to make sure the author’s words accurately convey the intended message in the most effective and elegant way possible. I can concentrate less on subject matter and more on how sentences are constructed, what vocabulary is employed, what tone is established, and what the author wants to say. I love being able to modify one word or phrase and see a sentence blossom even while it remains firmly rooted in the voice and style of the author.

And I love the variety of material I get to read and the fact that I get to learn from authors who have spent days or years or decades researching and writing on a topic. In the past couple of months, I have worked on a book on Puritan theology; articles about Ugandan efforts to fight terrorism, the effectiveness of corporate universities, and the radical element in the Egyptian revolution; press releases and blog posts for an organization working to build new highways in Texas; and letters from scientists touting research efforts. This week I will be working to update the academic catalog for a university and editing a book that examines the life of Nicholas of Myra, the “Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus.”

As eDitmore Editorial Services enters its second year, I expect to continue writing as opportunities arise, and I enjoy having this blog as an outlet. But when someone asks me, “What do you do?” I plan to answer, “I am an editor.” No more qualifying with “and a writer.” It seems a small step, but I think refining my focus in that way can help me better communicate what I do and why I do it.

Much of my work in the past year has been with authors who are not native English speakers, and I find it especially fulfilling to be able to smooth syntax and clarify vocabulary so that ideas are not overshadowed by rudimentary English skills. My favorite bit of feedback came to me recently from one of these authors, who wrote: “Excellent job! I am impressed how efficient and describing the English language is when people that fully master it uses it.”

As I unapologetically embrace my role as an editor, I can think of no higher compliment.


January 15, 2012

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I highly recommend Tammy Ditmore to you. She has edited three of my books in the past two years. Each time, I have been impressed with her professionalism, and pleased with her ability to provide a po… Read more
J. Stephen YuillePastorGrace Community Church

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  1. This is so exciting Tammy – I am so happy to hear that things are going well for you. I can’t wait to see what wonderful things you will have to say about your second year as an editor! Congratulations 🙂

  2. Tammy, this is a great piece about finding your professional identity. Enjoy the journey!