You say editor; I say writer

Health Axioms, cover image, as poster

Health Axioms, cover image, as poster

With my MIT friend and colleague Juhan Sonin (a founder of Involution Studio Boston and, like me, an instructor on MIT’s 2.009 product design capstone course), I have been working on the text for Health Axioms, a beautifully illustrated set of cards that conveys health knowledge and preaches action. After almost a year, the project is coming to a finish. I’m so excited! The art, text, and package are smart.

Two weeks ago, I went to Invo’s fourth-floor studio in Arlington Center for a review meeting with the team, which includes artist Sarah Kaiser and Juhan’s colleague Harry Sleeper.  Propped on the final stair landing was a full-size poster of the package cover (see image). Around the studio hung more poster-sized images of individual cards. I suddenly pictured these in doctor’s offices and clinic waiting rooms. I imagined people inspired to move more, eat better, meditate, seek comfort, find happiness, and track data as a result of sifting through the cards.

It’s great to be on an effective team and produce a high-quality product. At the end of the meeting, Juhan wondered aloud if it really takes about a year to design and develop something good or, if we all had concentrated on it full time, could we have pulled it together in a month?  Knowing myself, I’d say the year was necessary. But high-energy quick thinkers might be as effective under a tighter time constraint. This much is true for all of us: quality work takes REVISION. Designers, you might call this iteration. No matter the time frame, a good product evolves over many versions. (And the first one sucks.)

I researched all the topics — there are 32 cards — and I drafted, revised, and proofread all the text. Funny, though, my title is “Editor.”  Juhan and Harry are creators, and Sarah is artist. What does it mean to be editor when so much writing is happening? I was put off by this at first. But I’ve been ruminating on it.

Yes, most of my activity has been what you call reading and writing. I found information and used language to implement the creators’ vision. Sometimes I remarked on the vision, but the vision was not mine.

Therefore, being a writer (or at least being credited as one) must involve vision.

Okay. I can accept this personally, but it also messes with my mind. It also messes with my teacher’s belief that through the act of writing, one is a writer.

There is some dimension to this that has to do with professional or occupational identity, staking that claim. That I am still sorting out. It may be fluid.

One thought on “You say editor; I say writer

  1. What a wonderful and *useful* project. And thanks for the reminder about “shitty first drafts”–always good to remember that even wonderful end products like this started out very, very rough.

    It’s an interesting dilemma about what it means to be an “editor” versus “creator.” I always think of T. S. Eliot’s epigraph to “The Wasteland,” where he dedicates the poem to his editor Ezra Pound, calling him “il miglio fabbro,” “the better craftsman.” In many ways, that poem was really their co-creation, so extensive was Pound’s influence on it. I think Eliot found just the right way to acknowledge that in his epigraph without discounting the fact that it was his own brainchild. Editors are artists, too–the polishers who make the final product shine.

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