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#Editors: Experience is what you get through mistakes

The Associated Press Stylebook

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Last week a friend of mine called looking for advice about becoming an editor. She was looking for a way out of the nine to five grind wherein she could control her time, make a little money and still manage to pick her kid up from school by mid-afternoon. She was doing things she didn’t desperately want to do. She didn’t like her options, even though some of those options could be more lucrative than editing. In short, she’s in a spot many of us have been in: passion versus practicality. She has a tough choice ahead. Let’s talk about her choices, and yours.

We can’t start this discussion off without mentioning that a lot of people don’t have any choice about their employment. They’re just happy to have any kind of employment. Either by circumstance or by a lack of education or preparation, many people in a recession take what they can get. Self-fulfillment in employment is actually a pretty new idea. In the Industrial Revolution (or any time before that) the idea that you have to love your work would be considered a silly idea. However, much of the soul-crushing ennui was made acceptable by the common practice of drinking yourself near-unconscious on the job.

This woman lives in this century and has options. Should she be an editor? She already had a useful teaching background. She played it down, but as we dug into her history, she did indeed have some relevant experiences to draw upon. She also took an editing course recently and explored membership in the Editors Association of Canada (EAC.)

I told her about the meat of the work. We discussed grammar and the common mistakes people make. We talked about the various levels of engagement editors bring to text. For instance, there’s a big difference between a proofreader, a copy editor and a developmental editor. We talked about flow, judicious cutting, client consultation and the merits of the AP Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style and The Elements of Style.

And I learned something. In coaching someone else, it forced me to evaluate how I’ve been going at the editing business. I’ve had various projects on the go, but I’ve been awfully passive about it. I haven’t stepped outside my comfort zone to go after new book and website projects. For instance, much of my editing work has come about because of my writing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s been pretty much exclusive to that.

My speech writing arose from my magazine writing. My web page editing came about through my magazine writing. The memoir I’m editing came as an assignment from a friend in need. The e-books I’ve ghostwritten and edited? Same deal. The marketing materials I’ve worked up for another client came to be because I’d interviewed the president of the company for another magazine story.

There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with these sources of work. Work is work, no matter how it finds me. But it’s a clue that I’ve been lackadaisical. I need to solicit work more actively instead of waiting for it to come to me.

I’m busy now, but independent editing is piece work. It can come fast, all at once or not at all, at least for a time. Sometimes, work falls through or gets put on hold for a long time.

And sometimes, only greater self-awareness comes through helping someone discover their own path. I’m pleased she’d thinking of joining the ranks of editors. She loves language and believes the proper use of words matter. I warned her it can be a hard journey if she’s not prepared to be a go-getter.

And now I know I need to take my own advice.

Filed under: Editing, Editors, getting it done, manuscript evaluation, rules of writing, Useful writing links, , , , , , , , ,

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