Are Writing And Editing Mutually Exclusive?

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Once upon a time, I wrote terrible poetry and dreamed of becoming a published author. 18 years later, I received a degree in writing, literature, and publishing, and began considering a number of different career paths.

Foremost among them was magazine editing.

Here’s the thing, though. When I first started out, I had this (misguided, lord-knows-where-it-came-from) vision of magazine work as a totally sweet gig in which I could sit behind a desk at my favorite magazine all day and write content for upcoming issues. Somehow, in my dream world, the actual act of editing never came into play. Once I realize that my view of the industry was slightly askew, I stopped even trying to break into magazines. Even though I somewhat-accidentally began establishing myself as a competent copy editor/proofreader, I concentrated on freelance writing as the true path to career fulfillment.

And then, somehow, ended up on staff at a web magazine.

At the moment, I spend three days a week in an office. (My other days are devoted to freelance writing and editing work, and the launching of my career coaching practice.) I write maybe two blog posts a week at this office job, but the rest of my time is spent editing and producing other people’s posts, managing interns, and making sure other freelancers get paid.

For the most part, I enjoy this mix. I’m learning. I’m being challenged. I’m never bored. Still, there’s no doubt that the writing I do there is what excites me the most.

And then there’s that other niggling bit of self-doubt. Can I even make it as an editor? Because, even when I have my editor hat on, I find myself identifying with the writers more. (That, and I really suck at writing headlines.)

I wrote this post awhile ago, on the different things I’ve learned from being on both sides of the fence. It includes things like understanding how busy editors are, wishing applicants and freelancers would take more care with their query letters, and realizing how detrimental it is to become too enamored of your own words. So yes, I’ve come to understand what it is what editors do, and what they deal with on a day-to-day basis.

But still, as an editor, I sometimes feel guilty chopping up and rearranging others writers’ sentences. And I feel guilty when I have to offer low rates. And I feel powerless when I can’t change contract clauses to benefit freelancers more. And I want desperately to be able take more time on the few posts I do write every week, but I can’t. Because there is other, more important, work to be done.

Are writing and editing mutually exclusive? Can one successfully be both? And for those of you who do it… how???

Related: Walking In Someone Else’s Shoes


  1. This is such a great post! I have been wanting to get into the publishing industry for some time. I love the written word so much that the thought of being a copy editor excites me. But the idea of going back to college to get another degree makes me nauseous. What’s a girl with a degree in Dance to do? I don’t know but I love reading your blog and seeing what this world I love so much is really like.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Tiffany! I checked out your blog, and I love it. (I’m in awe of people who can dance well.) ANYways, are you interested solely in copy editing? More interested in writing? Looking for a full-time gig? Depending on what you’d like to do, another degree may not even be necessary!

  3. Hey! I just stumbled upon your blog and this post. I too had always wanted to be a magazine “editor” without really considering what that meant. Now I’m working in association publishing (I’m still only 23 and it’s my second job – ha), but my title is “copywriter/editor” and I totally understand that push and pull of writing content and chopping up someone else’s… I guess if anything, it’d made me realize that you have to try and be nice and tactful when giving feedback. But also, to not take feedback from my OWN editors too personally 🙂

    Thanks for this post; look forward to reading more from you — I’ve been reading The Frisky and Your Tango for almost a year now anyhow!!

  4. Welcome to the blog, Alyssa! And btw, when I was 23, I had already lost my first post-college job and was handing out caramel swirl macchiato samples at Dunkin’ Donuts, and making pocket change doing nightlife reviews for Shecky’s. This was also about the time I got my first post-college internship, at the Feminist Press. Oh, angsty times… sounds like you’re doing great! 🙂

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