Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I Am Not a Writer

My love of words and language goes back many years, at least to elementary school. Like most kids who love words and stories, I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I held on to this dream for many years, till sometime in college when I made a startling discovery about myself: I don’t actually like to write all that much. My creative writing class was fun, but I never managed to sit down and produce anything substantial—it was just so much work, and there were so many other things I’d rather spend my time doing.

As you can imagine, this is not the best attitude for an aspiring writer to have. If I spend so much time avoiding writing, when was I ever going to become a writer? Surely novels weren’t going to spring fully formed from my forehead. About the same time, I also realized that most of the ideas bouncing around in my head were highly derivative—they were all not unlike other stories I had read. As you can imagine, this is also problematic for an aspiring writer.

What I was really doing was taking other ideas and tweaking them a bit; in other words, I was editing. The good news is that during my freshman year, I had gotten a job editing for Independent Study, and not only did I love it, but I excelled at it. Here was something that was perfect for me: I was able to work with words and make them better, but I didn’t have to do all that tedious writing-from-scratch stuff.

It wasn’t until I learned about Peircian semiotics, along with its accompanying personality paradigm, that it finally made sense to me. As a purple with green undertones, I love systems. I especially love fixing things to make them more correct and systematic. To me, a well-written story or poem is a beautiful thing, and I love to sit and think about what made it good and what could make it better. But writing something myself? That takes a lot of work, and it doesn’t come very naturally to me.

It’s a lot easier when I’m writing personal stuff like blog entries, because then there’s not so much pressure to be creative—all I really need is an opinion or an event to write about. I’m still not a very prolific blogger, of course, probably because I don’t have a lot of blog-worthy opinions or events in my life (in my opinion).

The problem is that most people see no real difference between writing and editing. Many people—including writers and editors—believe that if you’re good at one, you’re good at the other. To some extent this is true. What is apparently not true, though, is that someone who finds editing to be easy will also find writing to be easy.

Unfortunately, I’ve been looking for a decent editing job for over a year now, and the only jobs anyone ever contacts me about are writing jobs—proposal writing, copy writing, technical writing, it doesn’t matter—and I don’t want those jobs. I don’t like them. I’m not good at them. And I wish there were an easy way to communicate that.

Editing, Navel Gazing, Writing 8 Replies to “I Am Not a Writer”
Jonathon Owen


8 thoughts on “I Am Not a Writer

    Author’s gravatar

    I hope you find something exactly fitting for you. You definately do have a very unique “niche”, but your gift is that, so it is just a matter of finding someone who is looking for exactly what you are.

    I don’t understand this sentence: “As a purple with green undertones, I systems”


    Author’s gravatar

    I think the word like is missing between “I” and “systems.”

    Or maybe it’s the purple and green part you don’t understand. If so, Jon Boy or I will have to do a quick rundown of Peirce for you.

    Author’s gravatar

    You’re sounding a lot like me, in a way. My whole life, I’ve wanted to be an architect. But now that I work in drafting, I’m seeing a lot of designs that I don’t know if I could create something similar from stratch. However, I can look at a set of plans and pick out things that are wrong with them or don’t make much sense all day long.

    I’m not to the point of realizing exactly what it is I want. I guess it’ll probably take some architectural school to figure that out.

    Author’s gravatar

    I’m surprised you don’t think you’d be good at technical writing. You don’t have to create, you take the information and put it in a (hopefully) systematic form. Of course it will probably feel a lot like homework. But no job is pleasant. That’s why they have to pay people to do them. I have a friend who teaches sociology at Duke and she can’t believe how mind-numbing even that is. Well, it’s either the mind-numbout of a neccessary field or the futility of an unneccessary field.

    My recollection of linguistics 101 was that half the students were trying to withdraw by midterm because they didn’t get it and were failing. They were pretty nice about not wanting to kill me :) I thougth that if something that was so hard for so many people came easily to me, it must be worth doing, and maybe it would be if I’d had the guts to go for grad school or law school or something. I’m not bitter about it, I’m pretty happy with my life at the moment.

    Author’s gravatar

    Well, I knew the purple and green had to do with personality types — I’ve taken that test before. It was the other — which he has now fixed!

    Author’s gravatar

    It could be that my (admittedly brief) experiences with technical writing gave me an unrealistic perception of what the job really is. But Brinestone did technical writing for several months, and she often seemed pretty frustrated with work. Again, it could have just been that project, but it’s made me scared of technical writing.

    Author’s gravatar

    Here’s the thing, JB. In order to get into a position where your main job is editing, you first need to work for awhile as a writer — unless you want to make a career of copyediting.

    The reason for this is that the editing jobs where you are doing seriously developmental editing are generally management level. For example, in pr/mkt you get a job first as a account manager or staff writer or pr coordinator, etc. It’s only when you move up into an assistant director/director/editor position that you do the major editing.

    There are a few exceptions that you might look at:

    1. Book publishing. This is a brutal world, but if you get hired on with a large enough publisher as a copyeditor, you’re copyediting will also include some developmental editing.

    2. Grants. Most smaller non-profits need somone to be the grant writer, but if you can find a position at a large enough organization (esp. a University), you can (at a fairly entry level) get a job doing pre-work and then putting the final polish on grant proposals that others (faculty members, department heads, etc.) write.

    3. Hollywood. Okay so you pretty much have to pay your dues as a writer first, but if you do and you get luck you could become a script doctor.

    4. Human Resources/Training. Bascially anything where there is a need to train people on new policies/initiatives/programs, etc. You’d again have to move up the ranks, but at some point you could be the “Professional Development Manager” or whatever and basically outline and then review all the training materials, communications, etc.

    Author’s gravatar

    I think the frustrating part is that a lot dream jobs are possible, but they require doing jobs that are NOT dream jobs for a while first. There isn’t a job I’ve seen that wants just an editor in their advertisements, but they all involve a lot of editing.

    The frustrating part for me is that I like writing and I enjoy, but I hate editing. It’s the one thing I always do badly on in performance evaluations. I dread the end of a project because I hate the scrubbing/clean up phase that I know the text needs. However, in order to be a writer, I have to do some editing.

    In order to do editing, you’ll have to be a writer for a while.

Comments are closed.