13 February 2010

Learn to Write Well if you want to Become a Good Editor

I have been editing student essays for quite some time, and I really haven't paused and thought how I am doing it. I guess I have done it so many times already that I am now doing it subconsciously. It's like when you're doing something that has become second nature to you and you're not really conscious that you're doing it when you're doing that thing like walking, for example.

I will now try to imagine editing a student essay and with my conscious mind describe what I am doing.

I will open the student's essay and look at the question so that I would know what to expect from the essay I am about to edit. Then I read the whole essay from beginning to end. I pause for a while trying to understand what the student is trying to say. Sometimes, I don't understand a thing about what the student is saying. In such a situation, I go outside and have a smoke, look at the sky and some people, but still thinking of what the student has written.

I go back and just focus on the first sentence and edit it. I try to salvage the sentence as much as possible but if there is only one or two words that can be saved, then I would just re-write the whole sentence. I am being paid to edit these essays by piece so I don't have the luxury of staying too long on one essay.

I'm sorry I forgot to say something and it is that if there are blocks of text that have been repeated by the student to make her essay fulfil the number of paragraphs required by her teacher, I delete all the repeated text.

I then proceed to the next sentence and read the next few sentences following it. I start editing the current sentence until I reach the end. I then go back and review what I have done. I then correct any mistake that I have made on editing the essay.

I go to the comments blank and write what I want to say to the student who wrote the essay. I tend to give a longer comment to students whom I found to have more serious errors in their work. Next, I proceed to grade the essay by clicking on the button that best describes the student's performance on the different parameters set by the school. When I grade the student's essay, I already have a score that I am targeting for this student. If the grade that comes up is lower or higher than what I have targeted, I then adjust my grades on the parameters until I am satisfied with the final grade.

How did I learn to do this? Well, I have studied journalism in college and probably that's where I was indoctrinated on the qualities that one should find in a well written work. I'm not much on reading and haven't read much for the past 30 years. I don't listen to the radio nor am I fond of watching television. I'm not much of a reader in the Internet either because of too many faulty writing that you will find there. I guess I'm behind the times so why does my mentor say that my work is good?

Editing is much like teaching a child how to properly say what's in her mind. The child says something incorrectly and you correct her by telling her how to correctly say what she wants to say using the correct words and following the grammar rules of the language we are using.

In a sense, editing is so much like teaching, opening the eyes of the student to the fact that there is a better way of putting on paper what's on her mind. What's beautiful about this manner of teaching is that you have a concrete thing to talk about and you're not dealing with abstractions or mental processes that you can't really see or touch. I can go on a lecture on what good writing is all about and achieve nothing except perhaps some signs of agreement from the audience. But here, we have something that needs some improvement and improving it we do and in the process, the student learns.

Of course you cannot edit well if you're not a good writer. Good writing is the foundation on which good editing skills are built. When reading something created by a good writer, you experience a seamless flow of idea that envelops and captures your mind. When reading a good written work, your mind remains open even if you disagree with what you're seeing or hearing.

So that settles it. If you want to be a good editor, be a good writer first. I think that when you''re editing someone's written work, you instinctively compare it to how you could have written the work if you were the one who was given the writing assignment.

I'm reminded of an incident when I applied to an editor position and I had on my resume's objective to find a web writing job. She asked me if I was applying as a writer or an editor. I told her that you can't become an editor without being a writer. She was looking for an editor, not a writer and now I wonder how one could possibly find an editor who has never been a writer. Editing is such a quaint job that ordinary people really don't know much about it.

If being a good writer makes one-half of being a good editor, then what is the other half? The other half I think is empathy. It is a skill that enables one to put himself vicariously on the position of another person. This character is something that I know I have and yet don't know much about. I have always been this type of person as far as I know. And yet I don't think that I was born this way. I guess life's circumstances made me one. This could be the hand of fate that chooses which among the people of this earth are going to become writers and editors. (Sorry, make that which who.)

Empathy plays well when you're trying to decipher what the student wants to say in his essay. It is the ability to extract thought from a work that an ordinary person would consider gibberish. It goes with patience, understanding and a forgiving nature. It is an ability to easily turn back time to the days of childhood that is full of wonder and astonishment. It could be one of the hallmarks of an open mind. Perhaps it is one of the basic ingredients of which poetry is made.

I started wanting to describe how an editor does his job and ended with this idea that writing well is the foundation of good editing. But being a good writer it seems is not enough. Being someone with a deep sense of empathy adds the missing ingredient that completes the picture of a good editor.

Read an article on how one becomes a writer at: http://sites.google.com/site/themightypenproject/how-one-becomes-a-writer

Read an article on how to control your mind during the writing process at: http://laptopwriting.blogspot.com/2010/03/how-to-control-your-mind-during-writing.html.

Read an article on good ideas about writing as a mental process at: http://laptopwriting.blogspot.com/2011/03/good-ideas-about-writing-as-mental.html.

Read an article on why taking notes or outlining may be the cure for writer's block at: http://laptopwriting.blogspot.com/2012/01/taking-notes-or-outlining-may-be-cure.html.

Read an article on practical ways to improve your writing skills at: http://laptopwriting.blogspot.com/2010/11/practical-ways-to-improve-your-writing.html

Read an article on a few guidelines on writing translation friendly articles at: http://laptopwriting.blogspot.com/2012/01/few-guidelines-on-writing-translation.html.

Read an article on how to write a search engine optimized article at: http://publishtoweb.blogspot.com/2009/12/how-to-write-search-engine-optimized.html.