They say you learn a new thing every day. I truly believe this, even if your daily lesson is something seemingly trivial or obvious, like realizing guacamole is made from avocados. Today, I have been at my new job for three months, and my main responsibility is editing. When I first started the job, I arrogantly thought I was a good editor. But I learned, and I learned fast. For one, I had never edited technical documents before. I had never edited references, footnotes, or any kind of citation material. There were a lot of things that weren’t even on my radar, things I didn’t even know I should be looking for. My superiors have taken so much time out of their schedules to train me, the lowly entry-level person, and I really appreciate it. Because learning about editing has taught me a lot about writing, too.
You can be a good writer, but a terrible editor. You can also be a good editor, but a terrible writer. The two don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.
You can also be a great technical writer, but a terrible poet. Being a “good writer” doesn’t translate to being good at all types of writing. It’s like being great at making sculptures, but being unable to paint a decent watercolor.
It’s harder to write when you edit for a living. You realize the mistakes you’re making as you’re making them, and it takes a lot of effort not to go back and correct them, but to just keep getting the first draft down. But, oddly enough, editing for a living doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to edit your own writing. It might even make it more difficult to edit your own work.
It’s harder to read when you edit for a living. It’s difficult to switch from “reading for errors” mode to “reading for pleasure” mode. A lot of the time, I’ll find myself mentally changing a sentence from passive voice into active. Kind of frustrating.
It helps to know random facts (what is “useless information” to everyone else) when you’re an editor. That way you’ll know that CDC actually stands for “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” not “Center for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Editing in itself is hard work. You have to have patience, the ability to concentrate without getting easily distracted, care for preserving the author’s unique voice, an eye for tiny details, and patience. I know I said “patience” twice, but it really is that important.