I still feel like something of an imposter when I say it.
“I am an editor.”
It still feels a little unnatural, even after the book purchases and the courses and all the commas corrected, the style guides consulted, the words looked up in Merriam-Webster, the 1:00 AM cries for help to the Facebook group for editors and proofreaders and word doctors.
It still feels like too bold a statement, even after all the years of proofreading everything from college student term papers to corporate status reports to doctoral dissertations.
“I am an editor.”
Yes, but you still don’t know as much as you should, that little voice in my head, aka The Judge, whispers. Never mind that no one can know it all. Have you seen the size of the Chicago Manual of Style? (Seriously, have you?) And then every so often the rules change and you have to remember that while journalists stopped capitalizing “Internet” as of this month, book editors still keep the uppercase “I,” at least for now.
It was a stretch to call myself an editor “for real.” I felt I had to attain a certain amount of knowledge first. (Never mind that that was a pretty ephemeral goal!) What if I made a change to a manuscript and someone discovered that it was wrong?
Guess what. That did happen, earlier this year. In fact, two or three times in the same manuscript. I had to console myself with the fact that I’d gotten so many other things right.
Because I am a perfectionist as well as an editor.
And I didn’t know how much I didn’t know when I signed up for those first online courses in 2014. It embarrasses me now to admit that I didn’t even know style guides existed.
There’s ignorance for you.
But I had enough sense to know I didn’t know at least some things, and in an effort to repair my ignorance before I did some lasting if minor damage to someone’s manuscript, I joined groups and took courses and asked questions and looked things up, and I still do. Almost every day. Certainly with every project.
Just like editors and proofreaders and word doctors all over the world.
And that’s okay.
Were we all born with an inability to tolerate typos? Are we control freaks, or, in popular parlance, “Grammar Nazis”? Is red our favorite color? (For the record, I’ve been known to edit in green and purple, sometimes even turquoise or orange.) Are we, perhaps, just overly sensitive?
I can’t answer for anyone but myself, but I seem to have been endowed by my Creator with a fundamental desire to see writers of all stripes “present themselves to the best possible effect on paper,” whether that involves a restaurant menu or a master’s thesis. Because your words reflect you. They can be sloppy in speech, but what’s on the page, or the website, can come back to haunt you years down the road, say, when you’re applying for a job—and I’m not just talking about typos.
Too many adverbs. Too many grammatical errors. Weak plots. Redundant phrasing. Anachronistic dialogue. Poor research. You name it, I’ve either done it or seen it. And like as not it will brand you as just plain lazy or ignorant in some circles.
Think that’s an exaggeration? I’ll never forget the statement made by a member of a Facebook group for fiction writers, lamenting the sorry state of much of today’s self-published work, so riddled with errors that he passed on even attempting to read many titles that would have otherwise caught his attention. Or this quote from literary agent Richard Curtis—back in 2001:
“It was not long ago that the prevailing attitude among editors was, ‘This book has some problems but the author is so talented that I’d like to buy it and work with him.’ Today such words are rarely heard. A book with problems is a book rejected.”
Yikes! Let’s not make it even harder on ourselves!
I am an editor because I want to see you make your professors proud. Your bosses. Your literary agents. Your future readers. I want you to respect yourself with your words.
And, frankly, because I’m just wired that way, so where’s the use in fighting it? It’s a losing game.
I am an editor.
Nice to meet you.
Leave a comment and ask me a question.
- Shades of Savannah. Did You Know Savannah was the “City Built on the Dead?” - July 30, 2016
- Do You Want More People to Read Your Writing? I Am an Editor - July 1, 2016
- What If There’s No Harvest? - November 14, 2015
- Lucie Winborne Speaks Out - October 16, 2015