“I’m sorry for all of the edits, it looks like much more than what’s actually there.”
Rip apart my writing to herd my thoughts on a page into a coherent state. Ask me questions about why the tangent on where the word “kangaroo” originated is important for this piece on welding. Take away the word I keep using over, and over, and over again. Call me out on my odd capitalization, acronym usage or word choice from absorbing four different style guides so far in my career, two of which I put together. Find all those little mistakes that not even Microsoft Word and Grammarly’s powers combined can save you from (looking at you, “pubic” when I meant “public.”)
That’s what a great copy editor does. I have always enjoyed writing and picking apart or learning new words. English was always my easiest class because I read quickly and can jam out a 10-page essay in a couple of hours. But I never felt challenged in school until I started to take journalism classes in college.
I feel like every major has the “culling class.” You know, the one where the meanest professors teach them to ensure everyone who continues really knows what kind of career they are getting into. My intro to news writing class was this one and oh boy, was that humbling. The first article I wrote, about recent upgrades to the playground in a nearby park, looked like a drawing of the container they found baby Dexter in (pop culture reference, look at me go). A lot of layers of disturbing red along with “This would never be published in a newspaper.”
At first, I was horrified. The gifted child in me thought perhaps there was a mistake. But it wasn’t. It was a humbling experience and instead of giving up, I took apart each of the edits to learn from. This was after a call home to cry about it for a bit, of course, but it was an excellent lesson on multiple fronts.
First, you can’t tie your ego to your work. Everything we write is part of us in some way and it’s feels vulnerable but to readers, it’s just often cold shared ideas. You can’t take it personally if someone doesn’t like what you write. You take the feedback that makes sense in the context of what you’re writing and move along. I now look at very red pages as a challenge over a failure. I would rather just one person read big mistakes than to ignore any feedback and send something out to hundreds or thousands of people to see. Big yikes.
Another lesson that took too long for me to learn is that not everyone is going to like what I do and how I go about it. There were certain editors who hated the way I structured my lifestyle stories. I always tried to bring in design elements and structure the story as a story within a story. One editor would pick every story apart until it was like he would structure it. That is, until I won a state award for one and suddenly, my ideas didn’t seem too bad. As an editor, I make sure to not force my own voice or approach on the writer and instead focus on fixing the grammar and technical stuff. As a writer, I take edits with a grain of sale but always look for opportunities to get better and learn. Maybe it’s just that gifted child syndrome haunting my adulthood.
Embrace the red marks as just another tool to use as we all try to figure out how to do what we love and get paid for it. And if you want to edit these blog posts for me, please do.