From the Editor's Desk

What It’s Like to Be an Editor

My friend Grace, for whose small press I occasionally do contractor work, asked me if I might share some thoughts on editing.

The first thing that comes to mind is this: It’s really brain-intensive work. I’ve invested years of study, training and practice on becoming awesome at this, and y’all who’ve seen my work are telling me it’s paid off very well.

Because it’s really brain-intensive, high workload can have a huge impact on my life. Life is finite. We only get so many hours, and then we’re dust. Some days, it can feel like my life is slipping away through my hands like trying to grasp the wind.

Nonetheless, I’ve plenty of requests over the years to work for free as a favour, or because a person can’t afford it (AKA has not budgeted for it). I have on occasion wanted to tell the pushier types, try asking the guy at the furniture store if you can just take home that big TV because you really want it, but you can’t afford it. Oh, and by the way, he should let you because you, more than anyone, can appreciate his awesomeness.


But you, my readers here, are not of that ilk, which only makes me love you all the more. Much of this will probably resonate with you.

This is a job. An 80,000 word substantive edit takes weeks of my life, and is worth $1600 USD on my fee structure. And I do mean worth it. I have a fierce loyalty and commitment to my people, and I’m hardcore about the work I do for them.

Also, I’m very interested in tearing down pseudo “rules of the biz” that say you can’t get published because it’s all a big conspiracy. Bullfeathers. Writing, too, is a job. It takes some time and effort, but you can do it.

Secondly, this is a vocation, not just a job. That means you could have many thousand dollars to spend on an editor, but if I determine that I’m not a fit for you, I’ll direct you to a better selection. I have done that before, and I’ll do it again. I want the best for you, including the times when I’m not it. Writing involves a lot of emotional exposure and self-doubt. Part of my job is to look you in the eye and tell you you’re going to be okay, and provide any answers I might have for those doubts and concerns. In order to truly help, we both have to be honest about our strengths and weaknesses relative to the work.

And because this is a vocation, I do give away a lot of time for no billable returns (see Team PYP 2011-2012 and this student confessional). The reason is not because I’m some halo-sporting guru of goodwill, but because I have learned from my own experience that unexpected support, given at the right moment, is a lifeline. It has been a lifeline to me. Others have done the same for me, and the only way I can fully express my gratitude to them is to make their gifts go as far as I know how. Nobody owes me anything. Nonetheless, they gave.

Thirdly, this vocation makes me whole. I am one of those women who does not believe that being in a relationship, or having children, is the primary purpose of life. One of ’em, yes. The end-all and be-all, no. No one, male or female, is the sum of their relationships. Just like no one is the sum of their jobs.

I am who I am when I’m exercising a full range of things that, apparently, are built into me. Helping people, facilitating learning, being a lifelong student myself, and practicing an art form as best I know how. I have a personal spiritual belief that includes life after death; not just disembodied consciousness or becoming part of the great everything, but personal life, as myself, in a real place where I do things I began to do in this world–only I get to do them without brokenness and flaws and limitations.

When I lose my way, the literary arts are like a beacon for me. They remind me that life is short, but something lives on beyond it.

One of my primary (and most rewarding) tasks in meeting new contacts is building trust. Not manipulating people into hiring me through hard-sell pitches, but genuinely demonstrating care, skill and understanding of unique needs. It never ceases to be utterly cool to me that I get to do that.

Lastly, it provides a positive context for who I am. We artsy people can meet a lot of folks along the way who think of us as kind of weird and impractical. We’re viewed as cultural decor; optional when affordable, possibly useful the odd time a practical feature manifests. (“Could you spell-check my homework?”)

Those of you who’ve allowed me to serve you have taught me something precious about being an “artsy” person: it is very, very practical, when the artistically-inclined fish is not being asked to ride a bicycle. Here’s to swimming upstream.

Image credit: What Word are You? by Terry Johnston on Flickr | License: CC-BY-2.0


4 replies »

  1. You have been an incredible lifeline for me with your services as my Team PYP mentor. Thank you so much, Cat! $1600 for your services would be a steal! I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay your goodwill in helping me for free, though I suppose no longer submitting personification to your desk is a good start 😉

  2. Aw, thanks, Laurie. 🙂 Actually, I have some nefarious plans for working with you and Paul through the SciendaQ project, so…you’ve got an editor in a small way. 🙂

    Hey, Wildcat, thank you for that vote of confidence! I’m working on an article for this site dealing with passive and active (with a splash of personification on the side) and guess who keeps coming to mind…you monkey. 😀

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