The Secret Life of Editors
Updated: Oct 25, 2022
I prefer telling people that I'm an editor rather than a writer. Back when I identified as a writer, the conversation always went something like this:
Person: So, what do you do?
Me: I'm a writer.
Person: Cool! So what do you write? Do you write books? Have I read any?
Me: I work for a health insurance company.
Person: Oh. [Awkward pause]. So. Like, their ads?
I always hated disappointing them when I replied, "No, benefit brochures." Or worse, "Marketing materials." I hated seeing their eyes glaze over. Plus, there were always those uncomfortable moments when the person saw an opportunity to complain about a denied claim.
But when I realized that I'm actually an editor more than a writer, those conversations got more interesting. And now that I'm doing freelance, they're even more interesting. People find book editing way more exciting, and they have questions. Lots of questions. And remarks.
I've found that life as an editor isn't really what people expect. I'll summarize.
I'm not silently correcting your grammar when you speak or rolling my eyes when you write bad texts.
Okay. Maybe I actually am. But I would never call you out on it! That would be rude. I correct people's grammar to their face only when a) they're paying me or b) they're my kids.
Spoken language is so different from written. Theoretically, they have the same set of rules. When you're someone important giving an important speech, yes—your grammar should be correct. But when you're chatting with someone at a party or the grocery store, who cares if you use a prepositional pronoun instead of a subject pronoun? Dangle those modifiers and participles all day long.
And texts? Please. I don't think less of you if you or your "smartphone" spells a word wrong.
I would never embarrass anyone by correcting their spoken grammar. However. Piss me off in a professional capacity, and I can weaponize a red pen in .5 nanosecond.
Editing is about more than grammar.
It's also about punctuation, sentence structure, clarity, consistency, style, accuracy, continuity, character development, fact-checking, copyrights, sensitivity review ... Oh, the list goes on. But I probably lost you at consistency.
I was playing pub trivia recently (waiting hopefully for grammar or English medieval history to turn up as a topic), when one of my teammates decided to ask me about the proper placement of a period in relation to a close quotation mark. I said it goes INSIDE the close quote.
I explained that putting it outside the close quote is British style. He said he preferred that. That it, "looks stupid" inside the quote.
I shrugged. Everyone has their opinion. He can do whatever he wants with whatever he writes. That's between him and whoever reviews him. But I was delighted that someone out in the wild wanted to talk about grammar and punctuation. People usually aren't interested. I have found, though, that some carry around nagging questions that they're just dying to ask an editor if they bump into one.
No, I don't routinely edit my kids' school essays.
Routinely, no. But if they ask, yes. I like to think of myself as a secret weapon that can be trotted out in a pinch. I return essays with redline turned on, and a hearty and sincere, "Good job! Just a few little things." And I hope that the boys learn a little through the process. But teaching them grammar and composition? That's what teachers are for. They're better at that that I am.
I don't have a favorite book. And I'm not constantly reading when I'm not working.
I fondly remember the days when I read constantly. These days, reading is work, and work is reading. So when work is over, I decompress by cleaning the house, working in the yard, walking the dog—anything physical that doesn't involve sitting or typing or thinking.
This professional editor, when the work day is over, is not catching up on The Paris Review or taking down notes on the latest Chicago usage decisions. She's flat out on the den couch, watching Curb Your Enthusiasm with the dog.
That's not to say I don't love books. There are piles of books all over the house—books I want to read. Some I've even started. It's embarrassing. But something I've vowed to work on.
And favorite books is a whole other blog.
I don't use impeccable grammar when I talk.
I also swear like a long-haul Australian trucker or a Cornish sailor. Or maybe just a perimenopausal American mother.
As mentioned above, spoken language is and should be a little different from the written word. And in some contexts, creativity overrules correctness. (Although you'll never catch me saying, "Me and him went to the store and caught Covid again." God forbid.)
And it's fun to make up words! My ex-husband used to tell me, "You can't use editory! That's not a word!"
Like hell it isn't. If a word or a term accurately communicates a meaning, I can use it. Anybody can. English is a wonderfully adaptable language and a very fun toy. This is why I love Curb Your Enthusiasm. Last night I heard Larry David and Richard Lewis use the word remindership. Hilarious. My editory heart smiled.
I'm not a proofreader.
But don't tell my employer that because that's a lot of what I do for them, technically. But really, it's editing. That's because the project management software we use doesn't have a task for Editing. Just Proofreading. So I do my Editing in a Proofreading stage, and I complain.
Proofreading and editing are different functions, ideally performed by different people at different stages of the manuscript life cycle. In fact, the editor SHOULDN'T proofread because by the time proofreading is called for, the editor has already seen a manuscript about a billion and two times and is mentally and physically blind to any typos.
Proofreaders are very important. What they do is vital to producing a quality book. I certainly fix typos when I'm editing. But that doesn't mean those little buggers don't find their way into a manuscript at some point.
Need an editor and a proofreader but don't have the budget?
We can talk. I have some suggestions for how to tackle thet.