“My Definition of a Good Editor Is…”

By Ray E. Boomhower

“An editor is a person who knows more about writing than writers do but who has escaped the terrible desire to write.” —E. B. White

“One must never forget that writing and editing are entirely different arts, or crafts. Good editing has saved bad writing more often than bad editing has harmed good writing.” —Gardner Botsford

“My definition of a good editor is a man I think is charming, who sends me large checks, praises my work, my physical beauty, and my sexual prowess, and who has a stranglehold on the publisher and the bank.” —John Cheever

“I believe the writer . . . should always be the final judge. I have always held to that position and have sometimes seen books hurt thereby, but at least as often helped. The book belongs to the author.” —Maxwell Perkins

“Nothing is more ephemeral than words. Moving them from the mind of a writer to the mind of a reader is one of the most elusive and difficult undertakings ever to challenge the human intelligence. This is what being an editor is all about.” —Norman Cousins

“We must always remember that we are only midwives—if we want praise for progeny we must give birth to our own.” —Diana Athill

“Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counseling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should say to himself, ‘How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style?’ and avoid ‘’How can I show him how I would write it, if it were my piece?’” —James Thurber

“An editor should tell the author his writing is better than it is. Not a lot better, a little better.” —T. S. Eliot
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Ray E. Boomhower is senior editor at the Indiana Historical Society Press, where he edits the quarterly popular history magazine Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. He has also written biographies on such notable Hoosiers as Gus Grissom, Ernie Pyle, Lew Wallace, and May Wright Sewall. Boomhower’s book John Bartlow Martin: A Voice for the Underdog was recently published by Indiana University Press. He is now working on a book about the World War II writing from the Pacific by Time and Life journalist Robert Sherrod.

 

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