Mara and I had the opportunity to attend our first Editorial Board meeting yesterday, which was quite an enlightening experience. It definitely made me appreciate to an even greater degree the hard work that goes into the process of editing and those who take the time to read, re-read, and — for good measure — re-read again works from writers of every discipline.
During my last three years as a college student, editing has become an important part of my life; whether I am refining freelance/staff articles for the college newspaper, reading and helping to assist in the revision of student writers’ papers at the Writing Center, or ruthlessly editing copy after copy of my own essays, tools of the editing trade — including endless supplies of pencils and red pens, packets of highlighters and sticky notes, and a critical eye for details in both content and form — have rarely been far from my side.
Still, when it comes to the process of editing, there is always something new to learn or something important to be reminded of. In attending and (to a small degree) participating in the Editorial Board meeting, I was reminded of the need to be somewhat ruthless when editing the work of others. Naturally, when discussing the piece at hand with the writer, it is always best to begin with the aspects of the composition that were well done, and to then move onto what can be improved upon should the writer desire to refine their work.
Nevertheless, in my time as the editor of the school newspaper, I have found that people are often hesitant to criticize another’s work, or if they do find problems, to address them properly (i.e., speak with the writer and perhaps work alongside them to fix the problem, rather than simply marking the issue with a big red circle and a question mark in exasperation).
Only through a healthy dose of criticism can writer’s become stronger at their trade. And, while it is important to be as kind as possible when addressing your criticisms with the writer, it is also important to not downplay the issues within the composition too much; who knows, you may be the only person who makes note of a major reoccuring issue with that writer’s work, and in letting them know, you will be aiding them in becoming a stronger writer in the long run. Even if they don’t appreciate your opinions so much in the short run, if they choose to apply them to their work, they will most likely discover a marked improvement in their writing skills.
In the honors lounge of Western Oregon University, the honors students are often fond of writing and/or posting quotes that they find particularly important to the undergraduate experience. One such quote, penned by two recent graduates, states, “Give criticism, even if you’re tactless. Trust us, it’s THAT important.” The more I delve into the world of editing, such as at the Editorial Board meeting, the more this statement resonates with me both as an editor and as a writer. Editing may not make the world go round, but it certainly helps it go write.
*title quotation from Tom Robbins’ Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates. Be sure to put it on your list of books to read if you haven’t had the chance to enjoy it yet!