At a recent family get-together, I tried to explain to my sister what I do:
“I edit. Mostly technical and sciencey stuff. Reports and things. Sometimes presentations.”
“Wow, that sounds boring,” she says. And it is—sort of. It’s not fun like editing fiction, much less writing fiction. But it’s also not devoid of its own pleasures.
You might get the sense from Ms. Harvey’s posts that editing is all about jetting around the world and editing out people’s extra dragons (okay, maybe not just that, but something like it). But it’s not all excitement (and fiction). A lot of us work with stuff that isn’t fiction, or even creative non-fiction. For certain reasons, my young editing career has detoured down this road, to technical documents, academic papers, financial proposals, whatever. I hope you’re not bored already.
Sure, fiction is fun, full of (hopefully) engaging characters and (ideally) compelling situations rendered in (possibly) interesting prose—all things that “boring writing” lacks. It could drive one a little crazy, but there’s a trick. I have to appreciate the beauty in clean, clear, simple prose. Prose that de-complicates complicated processes or communicates its ideas as quickly as possible. Prose that works.
Editing fiction/poetry/creative non-fic has been a dream of mine, but because the paying market for these things is thin (pro-writers are connected to specialized editors, and many newer authors balk at the notion of… well… paying), I’ve found an okay place to rest and work for now, a place to expand from.
It helps that I’m maybe pathologically obsessed with language and style. I’ve managed to find the same pleasure in editing out a comma splice in a piece of technical writing as I would in a story. Clean, strongly parallel prose feels good in any genre.
It helps that I’m curious about how the world works, and come to every fresh project with the mindset, okay, today I’m going to learn about mine engineering. Or financial consultancy. Or first aid training. Or whatever. I come to most projects with a fresh mind, and get to learn as I go, while correcting style and grammar. It’s kind of like being in a gelato shop where I get to test all the flavours, and then proofread their menu. A dream. I also get to learn about how certain professions teach their workers to write—I’ve edited engineering reports where 9 sentences out of 10 are in the passive voice. Yulp! What does that say about how engineers look at the world? Maybe nothing. What’s that say about how they write? Perhaps there is some truth in stereotypes. I feel needed.
It also helps that, with boring writing, the writer and editor tend to share a very specific and concrete goal: to produce a document that communicates certain information to a certain audience in the easiest possible way. This is, believe me, a much, much simpler and less frustrating goal than “expressing oneself” or “advancing the plot to the final battle scene.” If I query a particularly opaque term, saying “Is this common industry terminology? Revise to ___ if not,” I know I’m not putting the kind of hooks into the author that I might be if it were a creative work. No tears will be shed over my brusque queries. Not this time.