In the Background: The Life of the Stereotypical Lone Writer/Editor

Posted on September 3, 2013


ImageOne of the most hated and sometimes even painful aspects of my career as an English major in college was the constant “Oh, so you’re going to be a teacher?” question. “No,” I’d respond in annoyance. With enthusiasm in my voice (at least at first), I would explain to them my dream of becoming an editor and writer. More than once I’d watch the questioner’s eyes glaze over or see a blank look that clearly echoed their thoughts: “Wow, what a boring career choice,” “I know nothing about editing,” “You’ll be living on Ramen noodles the rest of your life or working at Meijer with that kind of dream,” or “I don’t know of any great editors who have made a big impact on people’s lives.” It was rare to get an interested reaction from someone who actually understood.

We writers and editors often find ourselves pushed back out of the limelight. Maybe we’re even misunderstood. Others don’t always point to us and say, “He’s going to change people’s lives someday with the words he writes,” or “She’s going to edit a book and help a great writer achieve renown and spread an important message.” We’re the loners: stereotyped as always cooped up in our bedrooms pounding away at a keyboard or scribbling upon page after page of manuscripts with the dreaded red pen. Everyone has a favorite teacher who influenced their lives in some way, modeled great character, or assisted them with finding their career path. Who has a favorite editor?

Even our favorite writers are generally loved for what they produce versus who they are. For instance, I love Jane Austen’s work, but I’ve never met her. I can only imagine that she had the type of witty, clever personality that radiates throughout her work, but maybe in person she was awkward, stuttering, and shy. Who can say?

Basically, writers and editors live in the background. We may know writer’s names but we don’t consider their career choice to be practical, and maybe not even important. In a world where everyone Tweets about the latest wins of their favorite football teams, updates their Facebook statuses to ask about the most recent movie release, and goes home every night to their prerecorded episodes of their favorite TV shows, why is a writer important? Everyone needs a teacher on their path to finding that job they’ll make a living from. But do we need editors that much? Writers? Who really thinks about that?

How people perceive us isn’t our only struggle in the literary world. What if that book you edit doesn’t make the bestseller list? Or maybe you pour blood, sweat, and tears into a book only to publish it to an enthralled and moved audience…of a handful of people. You felt compelled to share something that tugs at your heartstrings, but your book is left to collect dust on shelves and be forgotten while others talks about the things or people that changed their lives, their minds, and their attitudes. Do we strive to produce good literature for nothing?

The answer, for me, is to remember why I chose writing and editing in the first place, outside of my love for the two. Our motives can’t revolve around making a name for ourselves, if we want to experience success and satisfaction in our pursuits. We need to have a passion about what we’re sharing. We have to believe it’s worth it, no matter if one person or millions read the words we spread.

I remember the books that have influenced my life, my thoughts, and my perspective. A teacher or a doctor or an engineer might make more tangible differences in the world, but we writers and editors are there in the background giving them a hand. We’re there in the textbooks we write or edit for the teachers. We’re there in the guidebooks that offer direction. We’re there in the books parents read to children at bedtime. We’re there in the dictionaries that make communication clearer and more effective. We’re there in the fictional novels and the literature others discuss and draw ideas from or pick “role model” characters to look up to. We’re there in the thoughts and ideas and agendas we put into words.

It’s not about us. In fact, sometimes it may be best if we remain in the background, less “known,” for the sake of promoting our words all the more. We like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and even J.K. Rowling and Susan Collins (whether you consider The Hunger Games “literary” or not), rarely because we know their names or read news or biographies about them, but because we know their messages. Their books contain ideas that inspire us or make us think, or characters and morals that motivate us to be better. In some way, what they wrote has influenced us.

It may not be in a very tangible way (how can you measure the impact you have on someone’s mind or heart?), it may bear some loneliness or bad stereotypes, it may keep us “in the background,” but language is influential. Abraham Lincoln’s alleged words during the Civil War to Harriet Beecher Stowe serve as a rallying cry to authors: “So this is the little lady who started this big war.” Who is to say that your book, whether it makes an impact on the world, a nation, or just a handful of people, isn’t important? If it’s important to you, someone else is bound to glean something valuable from it.

So maybe coping with this “lone writer” syndrome involves changing our perspectives and priorities. Maybe our definition of success shouldn’t be founded in what others think or say about us or even what we write. Our success lies not in who knows our names or how many people know our works, but in whether or not we share our messages.

 Rachel Schade, Writer, Editor, and Publishing Coordinator, Asta Publications

Asta Publications has a long history of helping writers tell their stories and get published. Since 2004, Asta Publications has helped hundreds of authors bring their book concepts to life and we are ready to help you too! Our dedication to our authors is unmatched. We deliver first-class products and services that are accurate, high quality, and exceed our authors’ expectations.


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