Randall Payleitner


Editing and Writing Aren’t the Same Skill

For two years I wrote a weekly opinion column in my university’s newspaper. My articles were due on Wednesdays, my editor would go over them on Thursday morning, we’d haggle out some differences on Thursday afternoon, and it went to press early Friday.

I had written many things up until that point in my writing life,  but once they left my brain and made their home on the paper, they were done. Never to be reworked, resubmitted, or really even reconsidered. When I decided I was done, my work was the best it would ever be (which was sometimes good and sometimes really not so good). This was all true because it rose and fell based on my skill, interest, and time, and neither I nor anyone else ever returned to them post-delivery.

Then I experienced being edited. I honestly don’t remember any specific changes that editor made to any of my pieces, but I do know they got shorter, clearer, and less inside my own head.

Even though I didn’t realize it then, I think that’s when I decided (somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain) what I wanted to do. But was it writing or was it editing? And what was the difference?

Writing is…

  • Creative: You’ve got to think differently while still recognizing that you stand on the shoulders of giants.
  • Original: Staring at that blank screen with the cursor blinking is really tough.
  • Passionate: Without care your words will be lame ducks.
  • Expertise-driven: If you don’t know stuff you shouldn’t be writing.
  • Audience-centered: Good writing always knows who it’s for.

Editing is…

  • Efficient: Shorter, leaner, quicker—those are an editor’s key words.
  • Exacting: Taking “originality” and making it as “accessible” as possible is the game.
  • Removed-yet-invested: You’ve got to care, but you also must be able to see the trees and the forest. And recognize that they are different from each other.
  • Full of checks and balances: The main goal of an editor ought to be to make the author’s message come through most clearly to the main audience. The path to this isn’t always clear.


Here are my 3 Rules of Identifying Writers vs. Editors:

  1. Some people can do both. There are editors who are also writers. And writers who are also editors.
  2. No one is equal parts both. It’s at least 51/49.
  3. Even if you are some part writer and some part editor… Both roles can’t be fully accomplished by the same person on the same work. If you’re a writer, find an editor you trust. If you are an editor, make yourself trustworthy with others’ messages.


So which percent of each are you? How will you work toward being the best version of that combo in your creating life?