Sunday, December 4, 2016

Author, Writer and Editor

The words "Author", "Writer" and "Editor" are frequently used in the context of Literature and allied discussions. What is the connection and relation between these words? Do they mean the same thing or do they have different connotations? Are they interchangeable or is there a clear distinction between them? What is the right meaning of these words and when and how they should be used? What are the responsibilities of an author, a writer and an editor? Is there someone who can be considered and quoted as an author, a writer as well as an editor having done all the three different types of work at different times? It is indeed worthwhile to spend a few minutes and ponder over these issues to have a proper understanding of them.

In general parlance, the words writer and author are understood with the same meaning. A writer is one who writes something that can be read by himself and others. "Scribe" is the actual word to be used for such persons. A person who takes down what is dictated to him in the form of words is a writer. A stenographer is thus a writer when he reproduces the dictated part in words. A writer may also create a copy of an existing work or document by making a duplicate of it. There is a subtle difference between a writer and an author. Anyone who has a published independent work to his credit, may be in the form of a book (or e-book nowadays), is considered as an author. Thus there is a clear and major difference between a writer and an author. The writer generally has no responsibility of the contents of the document or piece except for a faithful reproduction of what is dictated to him or available in the original document. He is usually an employee and not an independent person. The term "clerical error" can be attributed to him but not to an author. On the other hand, an author has a legal responsibility and also enjoys the associated rights with the creation of the work. What he creates should be a original work. Authoring a work involves a lot of skills and talent and is usually a product of inspiration. Though the word 'Writer" is often used to mean an author, we have to keep this difference in mind while understanding usage of these two words.

An Editor is one who selects and revises available material for publication or wider reading. Editing is the process of selecting and preparing written material for conveying to others. Nowadays, it can also be extended to visual, audio and film medium where the word "editing" is extensively used to indicate bringing out an acceptable form of communication from out of a large volume of material that may be unintelligible in its original form. Editing involves creative skills and precise set of methods. It is not a mechanical work and requires special traits. An editor ought to be studious, have command over the material or contents of the work and subject he is editing. Editing includes collection, correction, condensation, organization and modifications of the contents. All this is to be done without distorting the intentions of the original author or authors. The basic idea of editing is to bring out a correct, consistent, accurate and complete work. Correction includes rectification of errors that may have crept in the work over a period of time and in spelling and grammar as well. 

What are the duties and responsibilities of an 'Editor" and what are the defects that may crepe in while editing literary works? Saint-philosopher Ananda Tirtha Bhagavatpada of 13th Century, well-known as Shri Madhwacharya for his "Dwaita" philosophy, traveled the length and breadth of the country for collecting the various versions of Mahabharata available at that time. After scrutinizing them he authored his celebrated work "Mahabharata Tatparya Niryana", meaning the proper interpretation of Mahabharata. It is interesting to note that he has made a very pertinent observation about "Editing" in this work. He has enumerated the four different types of errors that crepe in while editing a work and summarized them as under:
क्वचित् ग्रन्थान् प्रक्षिपन्ति क्वचित् अन्तरितानापि |
कुर्यः क्वचिच्चव्यत्यासम् प्रमादात् क्वचिदन्यथा ||

Kwachit granthaan prakshipanti kwachit antaritaanapi
Kuryahkwachiccha vyatyaasam pramadaat kwachidanyathaa

Which are the four errors that come up while editing and an editor should beware? They are:
  1. Interpolation: Addition of what the editor desires - these contents are not there in the original work, but added by the editor since he likes it and wants that to find a place in what the reader ultimately gets to read.
  2. Deletion: Removing portions not liked by him while editing. Editor uses his logic and discretion for removal of part of the contents.
  3. Disorder: Rearranging the contents the way he wants and thus violating the intention of the original author or authors.
  4. Ignorance: Errors that crepe in due to the limited or insufficient knowledge of the editor, resulting in wrong content.
An editor would do well to be aware of these four pitfalls to ensure proper and faithful editing of literary and other works, especially of earlier periods. What is the remedy for an editor if he genuinely feels that he does not concur with the original author and has justifiable reasons for such differences? He has the option of giving his views as a suitable footnote. But he ought not interfere with the contents of the original texts.

That brings us to the important issue of whether there is any person who is an author, a writer as well as an editor? Well, there are many scholars who have enriched literature and other fields in many languages all over the world, by their invaluable contributions as authors, writers and editors. But the foremost and the earliest among them is well known to us. Sage Vyasa, popularly known as Veda Vyasa, is an author, writer as well as editor. He is regarded as the person who classified and edited the Vedas and brought them into present readable form from a maze of large volume of complex works. He wrote many of his other works himself and hence is a writer as well. That he requested and got the assistance of Lord Ganesha as a writer (scribe) and became the author of the epic Mahabharata is indeed a very well-known story!


  1. Clarity by distinguishing the three words has been brought out excellently with good examples.

  2. You are an author,writer and editor like vedavyasar

  3. Excellent write up, very interesting, as usual

  4. I keep wondering how much you've read and assimilated, to be able to connect the past and present so well.

  5. Wonderful! Very illuminating on a topic that is commonplace, yet I never analysed the way you have done. Thanks for classifying the "errors" that an editor is liable to make. I thought all these were the duties of an editor!

  6. I am feeling like saying ditto to all above observations made. Really well defined and clarified.

  7. A very pro founding explanation of Creator the author, Translator the writer and the adopter the editor.

  8. Extremely high level work . Blessed to read this !!!