Getting to the Why of Editing


Getting to the Why of Editing

In his wildly popular TED Talk video How Great Leaders Inspire Action, author Simon Sinek maintains that most businesses know what they do, and that some businesses even understand how they do it, but that few businesses truly understand why they do it.

Why does your organization exist? he asks. Why do you get out of bed in the morning? Why should anyone care?

I spent almost 15 years working an in-house gig as an editor at Recorded Books (a company that will always have a special place in my heart). But nearly six months ago, I left behind regular paychecks and benefits to begin an adventure running my own editing business.

I’m a copy editor.

I love copyediting.

But that’s what I do.

I’m learning all the time and refining my processes (something I hope and expect will always be the case). But even so, I can give you a good breakdown of how I do what I do.

But why do I do it?

Sinek makes a compelling case for answering this question, and I’m sold on the importance of doing so.

I should answer it for myself, certainly.

But perhaps more importantly, I should answer it for my clients and for my potential clients. In truth, they shouldn’t just ask the question. They should demand an answer.

So here goes.

Anyone who’s chosen the freelance route can rattle off the usual reasons for going it on your own:

  • Being your own boss
  • Setting your own schedule
  • Pursuing the kind of work you want
  • Avoiding office politics

These are all compelling, but they don’t actually strike at the why of what I do.

So how do I get to why?

My Castle Walls Editing home page features rotating images with these slogans:

  • Serving the Author
  • Serving the Audience
  • Serving the Work

Each represents a different aspect of my why.

Serving the Author

In The Subversive Copy Editor (a must-read for any editor), Carol Fisher Saller expresses her philosophy that editors and authors are not adversaries vying for control of the text. They are instead partners working in service to the reader.

As an editor, I want to help the author. Helping is important to me, and on a basic level it makes me feel good. I have a strong need to please, and editing lets me do this in a direct way.

Serving the Audience

I’m a reader as well as an editor, and reading has always been a place of shelter and warmth (Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, and all the other writers I admire have gotten me through a lot of tough times, and reading to my children was one of the great pleasures of my life).

In a blog post, Baltimore Sun editor John McIntyre wrote, “And to be an editor, you must first be an avid reader. You have to hear all the voices to know which one is appropriate for your writer, your subject, your publication, your reader.”

So reading is important for both personal and professional reasons. And as an editor, I’m able to help deliver text to readers everywhere—and this is a mission I can believe in, heart and soul.

Serving the Work

As a child, one of the chief ways I pleased my mother was by tidying up my room. I’ve carried this desire for neatness—and the psychological rewards of tidying up—into my profession. My mother died when I was not yet out of my teens, but I think she would be proud of the work I do.

Certain kinds of editing appeal to me more than others, but at the heart of all jobs is that sense of straightening up. Addressing a reference list, for example, can be tedious work, but seeing a final product that appears just the way it should, down to the smallest detail, is extremely satisfying.

My Why

So why do I edit? It comes down to three things:

  1. I enjoy helping people.
  2. I enjoy being part of the book-making process.
  3. I enjoy cleaning up text.

Those are simple reasons, but they feel honest and they work for me. I hope they work for you too.



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