You know we’ll get into levels of edit, right?
Editors work with words on the page, helping to better shape their presentation and impact. They do this in various ways, depending in part upon how far along in the process the piece is, depending in part also upon what the piece needs — as long as the schedule supports it, of course.
Notes for a talk with an undergraduate editing class
If you like the work as you understand it so far and you’re wondering whether this might be the career for you, you’ll want to know something about the range of possibilities in the marketplace. I’ll give you a thumbnail sketch of some of the roles I’ve worked and talk briefly about where you might go from here to further prepare. Then we’ll get into a Q&A.
core principles to get you up and running
If writing is something you don’t do with great regularity, if it’s something you face with a bit of trepidation — or if you perhaps need a little refresher — these notes are for you.
WORKING WITH A RUBRIC CAN HELP YOU ORGANIZE YOUR THINKING
When a piece of writing works well, everything coalesces into one beautiful whole. Conversely, when the writing falls short, it can sometimes be difficult to sort out from the tangle where it’s working and where not.
ANALYZING AND SOLVING BEYOND MERE MECHANICS
Consistently, the problem I see with novice editors is, on the one hand, not knowing when they should limit themselves to strictly mechanical copyediting, and on the other, not knowing when — and how — to intervene more deeply.
A long-form piece, with examples.
THE ABILITY TO SPOT A FEW CLASSES OF ERROR IS NOT NEARLY CREDENTIAL ENOUGH
When I was at a startup in the early ’90s and we were building our department, we took on as editor someone very new to the profession. She had studied design in school, and the portfolio she brought us was filled with visual pieces. But she had an ear for the language, she had a passion for reading and could parse a sentence, she was sharp and analytical, and she soon picked things up.
Becoming a worker of words
Read deeply and broadly in the literature of the language (fiction and non) across time — taking in the rhythms of it, the cadence, the marshaling of words on the page, the words themselves.
It goes well beyond “grammar”
Editing means paying close attention. And being informed. It means questioning every detail from the smallest to the largest.
In response to the claim that no two editors will edit alike, the unstated corollary being that all editorial decisions must be equally good
Well, it’s true that no two editors will come up with exactly the same solutions. Each editor will bring individual sensibilities to the work, as well as different ranges of experience, different schooling.
A deeper dive into the levels
Each level of edit has its own concerns, though when you look across the levels as a whole, at the borders, one shades into the next. The divisions between each level are not hard and fast. Working with checklists can help orient you to the primary focus of each level.