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My friend Orkgrrrl found this article in USA Today, "Good blue-pencil editing becomes a lost art."

When I finished college 11 years ago, I didn't really know what I wanted to do next. I was tired of school and knew I didn't want to go on to graduate school immediately; in fact, I couldn't think of a reason to go, a subject I wanted to pursue that far.

So, I floundered. I spent another two and a half years working in a supermarket deli, and much less than half-heartedly sending out resumes in response to whatever ads I could scrounge up in the papers that somehow related to editing or writing and required my (entry-)level of ability. I finally left the deli to work as a long-term data-entry temp for the Postal Service, spending three years in that job (overlapping with the last half-year at the deli). I also sent out resumes more often, thanks in part to some pressure from my martial arts instructor (I started training right after leaving the deli).

I had a (very) few interviews as a result of my want-ad search. None of them called me back. I'd believed for a long time that that was a stupid and worthless time-wasting method to find a job. Nevertheless, it was a couple years before I realized that what I needed to do was leave the Postal Service and other unskilled jobs entirely, and sign up with temp agencies. If I could get temp assignments I'd at least be getting "real" office experience that businesses would recognize, even though I knew that I already had the necessary editorial skills. I contacted four or five agencies which claimed to need and use people with writing and editing skills. None of those agencies ever responded to me.

The agency that did respond to me did not, it turned out, place people with writing and editing skills as such - they were geared toward people with clerical, financial, and administrative assistant skills. Still, they could offer me assignments, I needed money, and I needed some kind of practical office experience to add to my resume. So I worked for them, and within nine months found myself hired as a full employee of a consulting group, as a result of my skills and competence beyond that of a regular temp. It worked!

Well, sort of. It was a good job, working for and with good people, and I enjoyed it. But as time went on it developed that they really couldn't use my prime skills - writing and editing - that often, that there wasn't really a place for me to advance within their structure. We agreed that I should look for a new employer. Fortunately for me, they were gracious enough to keep me with them while I conducted my search. Unfortunately, this occurred in early 2001, and the economy had already turned. I tried contacting yet another "creative professionals" agency, and although I did get to talk to them, they didn't have anything to offer me right away and then stopped responding to me.

After another year, in which I mostly floundered and failed to do much about finding a new position, I was handed one on the proverbial silver platter. A couple of my college friends worked for a Microsoft consulting company, which needed someone who knew how to write. One of those friends was in a position to get an offer to me. And so I moved to Seattle.

Although I'm no longer with the company that brought me out here, I'm still working in the same field, and now more than ever I'm using my thorough understanding of English and my editorial skills on a daily basis. Perversely, I sometimes complain a lot about some of the basic corrections I have to make over and over, but I really do enjoy my work.

For a long time I thought that what I really wanted was to get into the publishing field, in books or periodicals (but not newspapers). I still think that I would enjoy that, as long as my role actually was to be an editor: to work with text, to transform raw thoughts into carefully crafted phrases and sentences and paragraphs. The author of the editorial I linked to, however, comments,
"It makes me sad that the economics of modern publishing makes editors relics. The greatest, Gottlieb or Simon & Schuster's Alice Mayhew, have been in the business more than 30 years. A young editor today rises with skills in lunching and procuring. The dessert spoon and lobster fork are now mightier than the knife and the blue pencil."

I utterly loathe and fear the job-hunt process, and consequently I am not good at it. I did not have any contacts in the publishing field when I got out of college, nor did I put much effort into my job search until a few years later. When I finally started trying to get temp jobs in the field, I was five years out of school with no practical experience to show for myself. I believe it's clear that I bear the burden of responsibility for my failure to enter the publishing field.

This article however makes me wonder what role the changing times played, and whether I am better off, perhaps, for not finding a way in to professional publishing. I may regret my lack of ambition and drive. I might've spared myself years of unhappy floundering. Nonetheless, I do not regret being where I am now; aside from my love of Seattle and from the good friends I've made here, I'm also glad to have found a place where I can be myself, the editor.

I feel I should note that this post did not end up where I thought it was going to go. I thought I was going to write more about being an editor and what that means to me. Instead I've somehow come to yet another almost-sappy paean to how much I love being here. Urgh. Well, it's way way too late for me to still be up writing this, so it'll have to stand.

Bonus fun fact: LiveJournal's spellchecker doesn't recognize contractions!



( 2 have written — Write )
Jul. 29th, 2004 08:10 am (UTC)
It's funny, I've heard from editors and agents in the writing world that editing is not something that they actually do, that if you want your work to look really professional and you don't have the skills to do it yourself, you need to hire someone to proof-read before you submit your work. I've also heard from whiny writers who can't spell and wouldn't know a grammatically correct construction if it reared up and bit them in the ass, all saying that their work would be amazing and/or perfect if only they had had a decent editor.

There seems to be some major abdication on the part of not-so-good writers with regard to editing, and I wonder if that has lead to some of the decline in old-style blue pencil editing. If an editor has to practically re-write a piece to make the style flow, is it really the author's work anymore? And since there are so many writers clamoring to be published, isn't that a valid way of separating the sheep from the goats?

I say this in part because I know I have the skills to edit my own work (thanks in part to my experience as a copy editor at some newspapers). In reality, though, I'm frustrated by my own inability to get a job as a writer and/or editor due to the lack of a market and my lack of recent experience. Ah, well. Congrats to you for finding a way to make it work. :)
Aug. 3rd, 2004 10:30 am (UTC)
One thing that writing a novel has taught me is the value of a good editor. A good editor doesn't just fix the grammar and spelling, they winnow the ideas and provide the clarity and focus that sometimes even a brilliant writer can't bring to their own work. Some of our great writers owe a huge debt to their editors. Ezra Pound's heavy editing of The Wasteland comes to mind.
( 2 have written — Write )

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