When I tell people that I am an editor by trade, I almost always hear a brief hesitation in their response. People seem immediately worried that I will critique what they say or take a red pen to their texts. They get self-conscious and filter their words to avoid a correction that isn’t ever coming.
Besides the obvious fact that nobody likes to be constantly corrected, I would dispute that perfect grammar is not the goal of editing at all. And while I do know how to speak and write properly, I consider that to be the second most important role I play as an editor. My primary role is helping people get to exactly where they want to be.
The Invisible Work
When I really think about it, I realize that I have been an editor my whole life. In fourth grade I started playing volleyball. I was a setter, a position similar to that of a quarterback on the football team but with none of the glory. Setters call the plays – they set their hitters up for success. They absorb all the blame for mistakes (whether or not they were at fault) and receive none of the glory – and it was my dream position.
I fell in love with acting as a behind-the-scenes orchestrator, the crowd cheering loudly for my teammates while I remained in the background. I played volleyball for 12 years, through college and countless injuries, and I never tired of being a setter.
And much as I did in my role as a setter, as an editor, I stay hidden in the background. The purpose of an editor is to guide a piece of writing to its best version. In volleyball, that meant laying the groundwork for my teammates’ success and our team’s victory. In my job, that means helping people tell their stories and share their thoughts in a way that will both clearly communicate their intentions and leave an impact on their readers. Editing is a behind-the-scenes role, one that I am happy to play.
MORE FOR YOU
MORE FOR YOU
Words are magic – I have always known this to be true. Just one can transform the entire meaning of a sentence, scene, or conversation. I regard “The Great Gatsby,” for example, as one of the most beautifully written books of all time, but the story is really quite simple. Its impact and resonance derive from the way it is written.
Raw writing can be just as valuable as the final cut if you can see the opportunities within it. Editing, though, can shine up a written work, give it shape, and lovingly place it in a setting capable of revealing its splendor. As with “The Great Gatsby,” creating a story with resonance and beauty affords it longevity, allowing it to stand the test of time. Editing is not merely a process of adding in commas and correcting spelling mistakes; it is the art of combining words to evoke feelings, convey ideas, and leave a lasting impact.
The purpose of an editor is to help people “get there,” wherever that may be. In writing, that means helping people share their knowledge and stories clearly and memorably. Grammar revisions can help with this, but the best editors will help you communicate on a deeper level than a nice story that you forget as soon as it ends. All the best writing is impactful either because it influences your view of the world or it is resonant for its beauty and insights. Editing can help shape words into pieces that accomplish both of these things.
Recently, I read the novel “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” and a single sentence struck a chord in me. It said, “I’d rather be a story keeper than a storyteller.” The role of editors is not as simple as it often seems; it transcends industries, mediums, and interests. Each day, I seek to master the art of helping someone get there, in volleyball, writing, or any other personal effort. Editing, for me, is a hidden art that lives in the details that shape meaning and create magic. It’s bigger than any one person or moment in time. Being an editor means you are able to make an impact for the better – you are a story keeper, helping others to tell their stories.