Friday, April 22, 2016

Being a Good Editor Starts at Grammar--But Doesn't End There

If being an editor is you want to pursue, ask yourself: Is your grammar fantastic? If not, you need to fix that. Having fantastic written grammar skills is a job requirement for pretty much all editorial positions. This includes the knowledge of when good grammar shouldn't be used (and why).

Proofing, line editing, and copyediting involve quite a bit of what I call being a "word janitor." You'll sweep up stray verbs and glue on some more appropriate -s; pulls sticky extra apostrophes off the bottoms of plural nouns and lines sentences with needed new commas. You'll keep bins for "Extra capital letters and unwanted lowercases"--which will be switched out as needed; they're always both fully stocked, and they'll rarely go bad before they have a chance to go rotten. Plus the feather dusters will always be full of unclear antecedents that have been swept away, and sentences will need polishing with needed nouns or noun phrases.

Some of us find this fun. Others consider it a tedious hell. If the latter is true, editing is probably not your cuppa.

Then there's the style issues. Can you create and follow a style consistently that doesn't match an established one? There are multiple right ways to handle some things even within standard styles such as CMS. Your job is to always choose the same one. And can you remember what all the characters look like? You'll have to keep notes. Can you identify the writer's voice and style, and not change them, despite changing the sentences? Can you figure out when sentences should be left techincally incorrect to maintain style and voice, and which should be edited to be correctly incorrect?

It's a lot of detail-oriented work. And it's complicated and challenging on the best of days. Plus the genre you work in makes a huge difference--nonfiction versus fiction is an entirely different world. Once again, if this sounds awful, look elsewhere.

Even developmental editors need these skills. And they also need more skills as well, including a thorough knowledge of story structure, effective voice vs ineffective, effective character development, the best ways to vary pacing and when to use each, when cutting backstory or adding more would be better, how to use tone to create mood, how to craft good dialogue, and more... But if you're going to go into the business as any kind of editor, you need to have the grammar down before anything else.

The bright side is that you can learn. It does take time and effort, but if you really want it, you can make it happen.

But if this all sounds good to you, like a fun and interesting puzzle? It might just be worth looking into. 

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