The Age of Innocence

Young writers yesterday sending tweets to one another about what they want from an editor:

“My favorite dynamic with an editor is when they are trying to help me achieve my vision of a story instead of their own.”

“I think, at heart, what a writer wants from an editor is belief. Not blind praise. Just a calm belief behind all the work.”

What I got back after sending the tweets to several old editors:

“We have to treat them like adults even when they behave like children.”

“True, but we can’t let the word get out because they’ll come after us with murderous intent disguised as poetic justice.”


  1. Howard Means says

    What I wanted from an editor (and what I think the young tweeters really want) was unqualified praise. What I needed was a hard dose of reality—air brakes on my excesses and vanities and literary pretensions. You and the other editors provided plenty of the latter to my great benefit and enough of the former that I was mostly encouraged.

  2. When the writer tweets about a writer’s vision of a story versus the editor’s vision, that’s a difference that should get talked about and resolved early. I found that the best pieces were the result of talking enough with the writer at the start about how we both saw the story, keeping in mind that stories can change as they move along. I always thought of it as creating a mutual enthusiasm. What conflict that then can develop comes out of the editor’s dual role: We’re trying to help the writer achieve his or her vision, but the editor also represents the reader. That brings into play the need for an editor to have a good b.s. detector and a good boredom detector–the air brakes that an editor sometimes feels the need to apply.

    • What I did not like was an editor telling me what the story should say before either of us had really delved into the subject. Some writers, to my surprise, like to be told, believing that’s the safest route. Bill Rukeyser, the first managing editor at Money magazine, used to say, “Surprise me!” That’s a challenge any good writer relishes.

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