Friday, May 4, 2012

So you want to be an editor

Yesterday I received an email from a fellow blogger who had read my post on editing resources. She wanted to know how to get started in the field of editing. I was lucky because BYU has one of the best undergraduate editing programs in the country so my path was pretty simple. However, if you don't have an editing program at your school or you have already graduated, you might need to make your own way. I thought I would share  few suggestions on getting started as an editor.

First of all, if you are still in college, try to take as many classes that relate to editing as possible. Take a grammar class or some journalism classes. Literature classes are good, but they don't really prepare you to be an editor. You need to learn how to write and literature classes aren't always the best way to accomplish that. (Although I did LOVE my literature classes so I still highly recommend them.)

Write. Write. Write. Then get your writing published--colleges have so many opportunities for students to publish. It's important that you go through the process yourself so that you can relate to writers.

Volunteer for a journal. You will read submissions and it will help you learn to recognize good writing. It will help you learn the whole editing and publication process.

Find a job on campus where you can edit. There are so many of these positions available at colleges--professors, writing labs, campus offices, and newspapers all need editors. I worked in a publication lab in the library and as an editor for student athletes. Both experiences taught me how to help someone through the writing and revision process.

If you have graduated or school isn't an option at this point, there are still several ways you can learn to be an editor. The editing resources I posted about before are a good place to start. I know it might seem like boring reading material, but you need to be really familiar with those resources. Learn a few style guides too--APA, MLA, CSE.

Then start volunteering to help others. Help students or friends. Have you read a blog where the author mentions that he or she struggles with writing? I see this all the time--a photographer will say, "Sorry about my grammar errors. I'm terrible at writing!" Send the blogger an email and offer to help. Sometimes people post ads to Craigslist asking for help with a business plan or novel. It doesn't matter if you aren't making a lot of money at first--just build up your portfolio and references.

Also, learn to use Track Changes in MS Word. This is the most common way to edit content. It can be confusing and frustrating at first so learn before you are trying to edit a novel.

Editing isn't just about grammar and proofreading. One of the hardest aspects of editing is working with the writer. You need to learn how to articulate why the writing isn't working and then suggest how to change it--and you have to do it in a way that doesn't offend the writer. You must think about this in every comment you make. This is why it is sometimes easier to start with businesses because they aren't as attached to their writing. A writer with a first-time novel submission is going to be a little more sensitive.

Also, you need to learn how to keep the author's voice. This can be tricky. You don't want all of your edits to end up making the writing sound like you wrote it. A good editor will make the writing actually sound more like the author in the end. 

Finally, READ. Read everything you can get your hands on. Try to articulate why writing is or isn't good. Pay attention to how writers successfully say what they want to say. Keep examples of good and bad writing to help explain concepts. The more that you know, the better the resource you will be as an editor.

I hope this is helpful. Honestly, I am so glad I studied editing and have had the opportunity to work as an editor. I don't think there are many jobs where it isn't viewed as an asset. It has given me so many opportunities in just a few short years. Even if you aren't interested in being an editor for a full-time position, I believe it is a valuable life skill that is completely worth the investment.

I know I have several friends who are editors who read this blog--what advice do you have? What has been the hardest part about editing for you?


Margaret said...

Love this compilation! I didn't learn how to write well until I had to correct how others wrote. You see a lot of ways to improve your own writing that way, by both good and bad examples.

You're also right in that reading A BUTTLOAD helps with the writing. (Obviously, my use of buttload shows how little I read in the classics.) The actual writing talent reveals itself after a lot of work writing and reading until you think you've reached the end of your vocabulary.

Shannon said...

I love this! All great advice.

I think keeping the author's voice is one of the hardest things to learn. But also an invaluable skill. As someone who writes for different organizations, I really struggled with wanting everything to be how I would write it on my own. Now it is almost fun to write and be able to say, "this is such an AOK thing to say!" Or "this sentence is so J." But it absolutely took me awhile to get to that point (especially when I worked for a certain international governing body in NYC whose writing style is kind of blah).

Thanks again for all the advice M.C.!