Friday, March 28, 2008

On Being an Editor

I like it.

This is not the first time I have been an editor. That was in high school when I was selected to be an editor of our school literary magazine. The faculty advisor chose me because he liked me, but I was not a very active member of the editorial board and I made no contributions to the magazine. I didn't like writing and had no idea what I was supposed to do as an editor. But I did like my fellow editors, who were all smart and interesting. I felt like a fraud.

It took 15 years and the advent of personal computers and WYSISYG word processing, but I did learn to write. It also took a ruthless editor with no patience for errors and ceaseless demands for clarity and concision. I might have picked up a few tips on editing from Katharine along the way, as well. It was certainly good training.

But writing didn't pay very well, at least, not for me, which is when I became a real editor with a full-time paying job for a publisher. It was exciting and seemed ideal—small press, smart publisher, a dozen or so good books a year, and all having to do with software development, but our best laid plans can go astray. After an 18-month training period in how not to be an editor and how not to treat authors, colleagues, and pretty much everyone in the world, I got fired and spent the next three years not being an editor or a writer. Axes will fall.

Despite the negative experience, I liked editing. I like working with smart people who are passionate about what they do and are so far beyond office politics that they can seem almost childishly naive (which is just like being honest). As an editor, as opposed to a writer, you actually have to work with other people, and despite the fact that bosses tend to make my life miserable, I actually like working in an atmosphere of mutual respect. This is perfect! I like writers who don't know how to write but are experts in their fields. They like techie editors who know the vocabulary sufficiently to guide the writing process, but can't code their way out of a "Hello World" example. I believe this is known as a mutually-beneficial relationship.

So now I'm editing, again. I talk to smart people every day (or at least exchange email). An atmosphere of mutual respect is practically written into our contracts, and this carries over to all levels of the organization. I don't dread the bosses, they don't seem to want to have me fired, yet, and I don't sigh loudly throughout the workday. I don't even feel like a fraud. Perhaps I should thank that high school teacher who liked me. Kenny, where are you?

1 comment:

Meitar Moscovitz said...

I'm sometimes envious but always inspired by people who seem truly happy with what they do. Makes me feel like there's some hope for me after all. :)

This was a nice post to read.