From Spelling to Editing I wrote this essay for my basic editing course at Brigham Young University. My task was to explain why I had chosen to become an editor.
From Spelling to Editing Every Monday in fourth grade, Mrs. Torgerson would give a spelling pretest to the class. If we were lucky enough to get a perfect score, we would have the honor of sitting in the inflatable chairs in the back of the classroom during the real spelling test on Friday. There was one boy in my class, Timothy, who received that privilege almost every week. Fortunately for me, I was born with a natural talent for spelling, so I usually got the same treatment. But I hated it when I failed to perform as well as, if not better than, him. Because of this experience and others like it, I have discovered how my love for the English language has made me want to be an editor. In his essay “Mistah Perkins—He Dead,” Gerald Howard said to “strive to be the kind of editor your younger, hopelessly literary self wanted to be” (p. 61). Although twelve years have passed since being in Mrs. Torgerson’s class, I still have that motivation within me to be the best, and I still thrive off of my desire to succeed in spelling and writing. My goal is to always remember the self-satisfaction I felt as I sat in that inflatable chair in the back of my fourth-grade classroom. The quick pace of a career unquestionably threatens to distract me from that memory, but if I am to be the best editor that I can be, then I must keep those feelings of accomplishment fresh in my mind. As an editorial intern at the Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, I spend a significant amount of time alone in front of a computer, and it is easy to get bored. It is in those moments that I question myself and my choice of career, but then I remember my fourth-grade self and my love of editing. That simple memory renews the enthusiasm that I felt as a child mastering the English language.
When I first heard about the editing program, I knew that it was the perfect path for me. I have always enjoyed English, but more than that, I have enjoyed catching mistakes and solving problems. In high school English classes, I actually enjoyed peer review days. I liked being able to find punctuation errors and fix them. This fascination was confirmed to me when shortly after joining the editing minor I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Salt Lake City. As I entered the room where the conference was held, a man handed me a packet. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was a scholarly paper that this man was trying to publicize. After I sat down at a table, I began to read through the manuscript, but I had not read more than two or three sentences before I found mechanical errors. Even without much training in the editing discipline, I could tell that this paper needed significant work. Because I had some time before the conference began, I pulled out a red pen and began to edit the paper. That may seem overeager on my part, but I was enjoying myself and I became more and more assured that I had chosen the right career path. Although I do feel that I have found my perfect career path, I must be completely honest; there is a part of editing that does not come naturally to me and that I must consciously strive to develop. Richard Curtis said, â€œNone of those virtues [that editors possess] means anything if editors are lacking in courage. . . . The biggest threat to the health of our industry is . . . failure of nerve on the part of its editors.â€? (35) Editors must have the courage and the confidence to defend their editing decisions. This is difficult for me because courage is something that I have lacked all my life. My nature is to be reserved and to be afraid, especially when it comes to defending my stance on an issue. That characteristic makes it difficult for me to remain confident when someone challenges my decisions, editorial or otherwise. However, the older and I get and the more experienced I become, the more that side of me is suppressed.
One of the most defining experiences of my life was the study abroad program that I participated in this last summer. After nearly twenty-one years of hiding behind the personalities and opinions of others, I found myself in Ireland on a bus full of people whom I did not know. This trip pushed me out of my comfort zone and required me to have courage. Although I do not recall ever having to defend my decisions to my friends, I do remember a few times when I had to explain my religion to locals that I met there. One day during my trip, my friends and I were walking around in Cork, Ireland when we were stopped by some guys. They could tell that we were Americans, and I suppose that was interesting to them. We ended up talking to them for quite some time and it eventually came up that we do not drink because we are “Mormons.” They were astounded, and they wanted to know why we would ever want to abstain from drinking. We each took turns explaining different aspects of our religion, and even though these guys were not attacking our decisions or our arguments, we still had to have courage and remain loyal to the decisions we had already made. I later realized how much this experience had changed me. When I came home from my trip, I noticed that I had gained more self-confidence and more courage. And although I do not often have to defend my religious beliefs, I do have to defend my editing decisions, and I am able to do that with more confidence now. My internship at the Maxwell Institute has also helped me to overcome my timidity in editing. My boss often calls me into his office so that we can discuss my edits and compare them to his. If he doesn’t understand one of my changes, he asks me to explain to him my reason for it. Likewise, if I didn’t change something that I should have, he asks me to explain to him what I think his reason for the change was. In each of these scenarios, I am required to make a decision and then to defend that decision. One of the most important lessons that I have learned from my
boss is that I should edit as though the author were sitting next to me. This way, I do not change things simply because of my personal preference; rather, I have a purpose in mind each time I make an editorial decision. This practice forces me to have a specific reason for every change that I make to a manuscript so that if my decision is questioned later, I can confidently explain my reasoning for it. One reason that I love editing is that although I do not have any grand message to share with the world, I do want to help others share their messages. While discussing the roles of authors and editors, Paul D. McCarthy wrote that “it’s important to be very clear about the respective responsibilities: the author’s is to write the best book possible, the editor’s to help the author achieve that goal. The writer should try to keep an open mind and the editor should not be intrusive.” (McCarthy 136) I believe that I can greatly assist authors to “write the best book possible,” and I am confident that I would not be “intrusive” while doing so. It is not my personality to overpower others, and I have always been very concerned with how my words and my actions will affect the emotions of others. This attribute coupled with my newfound confidence will make me a wonderful editor, able to defend my editorial decisions while still maintaining a good relationship with the author. Just as my fourth-grade self strived for perfection on each spelling test I took, so do I now strive for perfection on each manuscript I edit. The experiences that I have had have prepared me to enter the career force as a professional editor, one with both courage and compassion. But more than either of those, I have a passion for the English language, and that passion is the foundation for my decision to be an editor.
Works Cited Curtis, Richard. “Are Editors Necessary?” In Editors on Editing, edited by Gerald Gross. 29–39. New York, NY: Grove Press, 1993. Howard, Gerald. “Mistah Perkins—He Dead.” In Editors on Editing, edited by Gerald Gross. 56–72. New York, NY: Grove Press, 1993. McCarthy, Paul D. “Developmental Editing.” In Editors on Editing, edited by Gerald Gross. 134–42. New York, NY: Grove Press, 1993.