6 Types of Writers and How to Edit Them

WRITERS_DOGS (002) courtesy of pixabay.comWriters, did you ever wonder what those editors were saying about you as they sat around the gruel pot fighting over the crusty bits? Well, I was kicking back at the off-leash doggy park the other day, and I noticed a distinctly familiar topic of conversation: relationship problems and how to deal with them. This post is to give writers and editors an idea of how the other half thinks.

The ideal relationship between a writer and an editor is when either one of them can say pretty well whatever they want about the manuscript, and the other will react to the comment as if it was a comment on the manuscript. And only the manuscript. I’m sure you know what I mean.

This does not always happen. Let’s look at a few points along the spectrum of interaction. If you’re an editor, just enjoy this. If you’re a writer, try to figure out which of these apply to you. Both of you think about how it affects your relationship. (For this post, the generic masculine pronoun has been used to protect the guilty.)

1. The Labrador Puppy

puppy-4112121_640 courtesy of pixabay.comI had a client once who was ecstatic to be working with an editor. Whatever I suggested, he agreed with, no questions asked. Great, hey?

No, not exactly. Because neither did he listen to what I said. He just agreed with everything and went merrily along his chosen path, writing the way he always had, depending on me to fix everything.

What to Do With Authors Like This:

Fix everything. I earned my keep on that project. The book was fine, but it wasn’t a very satisfying experience. So what? You can’t complain about a hassle-free relationship, a paycheque and a happy customer. I really have hopes for his second book…

2. The Working Breeds of All Types

In general, my clients take what I say, adapt it to their intentions and go on with their writing. I’m pretty laissez-faire in that regard. I rarely make the same point twice. I give my advice; they take it or they don’t. Unless, of course it’s something that’s definitely wrong, in which case we arm-wrestle it out. When we’re finished, the author has a book to be proud of, polished as shiny as I can make it.

What to Do With Authors Like This:

Edit their work and enjoy the process. Learn something from them. This is the bread-and-butter of the editing business, the reason we love the job. Creating a work of any sort is one of the most fulfilling acts a human can accomplish, and being part of that process for someone is a privilege and a shared joy.

3. The Border Collie

This is a special breed, and they come with pluses and minuses all their own. These are the keeners of the writing world. They bombard you with material. They send rewritten chapters before you’ve finished with the last edit. They want to discuss everything, worry it like a rag and chew it down into tatters.type-786900_640

What to Do With Authors Like This:

Give them structure. Set up a system to hand the MS or parts of it back and forth and stick to it. Use passive resistance. Get to the material in the time you have and get it back to them whenever possible. Remember, this type of person writes a lot of books. If you can stand it, it’s good business, and enthusiasm like that is contagious if you can keep up. This is one of my favourite breeds, both in dogs and writers.

4. The Jack Russell Terrier

And then there’s the writers that believe in their style. They don’t want to listen to what anybody else says because deep down they know better. They hire an editor because they assume the editor will recognize their talent. When he doesn’t, they can be a bit nippy.

What to Do With Authors Like This:

Deal with them firmly. Pick your battles and push when you know you’re right. Deal with them on their terms. Decide on the strengths of their style and help them achieve it. Expand your horizons. Remember: once in a long while, the client is actually right.

5. The Pit Bull.

I shouldn’t even mention this type because they never hire editors, but all of us have to deal with them once in a while, so here goes.

These people are perfect. They are experts, and their style of writing is the way it has to be. They are most often “pansters,” who sit down and write whatever is passing through their brains. Once they have it down on paper, of course, it is set in stone. “I wrote it, it must be perfect.” Any comment on the manuscript is a challenge to their self-esteem, and is often met with reminders of their expertise in the field, usually scientific. Their favourite comment, (I have been told this more than once) “I don’t have to write to attract readers. My readers will find me.” Even a pit bull can dream.

What to Do With Authors Like This:

As I say, you probably won’t get the chance to do anything. But remember, one in a million is a genius who is absolutely correct.

6. The Rabid Mongrel

angry man-70442_640 courtesy of pixabay.comOh, yes. There are writers like this. They may contact you for help or you may contact them and offer your services. They start out asking reasonable questions but when they find out that you are daring to question their baby, actually expecting them to change it…well, talk about biting the hand…!

Everything is your fault; your desire to remake them in your own image stems from a repressed godhood complex, and you should stick to your glossy coffee table pap and leave the real writing to the people who know what they’re doing.

What to Do With Authors Like This: Run!

The only thing to do with this type is to fold up your tent and tippy-toe away, hoping they’ll forget you. Any response — and I mean ANY response — could trigger a troll attack. As a professional working on the Internet, you don’t want to attract one of those.

The Bottom Line

The relationship between a writer and an editor is just that: a relationship. If you find a good fit, you’re lucky. If you find a reasonable working partnership, you’re just fine. If it isn’t working, talk about it, because just as there are types of writers, there are types of editors. One size doesn’t fit all, but recognizing how the other person approaches the job is a big step toward a productive relationship.

Author: Gordon Long

Gordon A. Long is a writer, editor, publisher, playwright, director and teacher. 
Learn more about Gordon and his writing from his blog and his Author Central page.

8 thoughts on “6 Types of Writers and How to Edit Them”

  1. As an editor I’ve seen most of these–thank goodness The Rabid Mongrel isn’t one of them. Yet. As an author I want to find an editor who will treat me like a Working Breed. All so far have failed to arm wrestle, but have stuck to their guns when I knew I was right. I’m still looking.

  2. OMG. I worked with a Border Collie once. Every suggestion of mine brought a 3-page email in response. I kept telling her that she didn’t need to explain herself to ME, but to her readers, but to no avail. Got through the first book and declined the second. Major energy drain.

  3. I love this, Gordon. Although I haven’t worn my editor’s cap for a few years, I’ve seen every breed you mention. If a few writers would read this and take you seriously, it would make life easier for everyone — editors and writers.

    1. Yes, Kathy. The whole point of humour is that it should have a point if you look closely enough. LOL. (Well, maybe smiling quietly to myself.)

  4. Hopefully I’m one of the working breed. I’ve got a good relationship with my editor after six books so I think we are both doing something right. Print book launch of the latest one The Costumier’s Gift tomorrow and she’ll be there and we’ll have lunch after!

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