A student reads this blog?
A student at a Midwestern university wrote to me yesterday to say that she has been reading my blog for the past year and finds it valuable. And she asks for my advice about a career in copy editing. You know how often anyone asks me for advice about anything? I’m not going to pass this up.
Read widely. Read books. Read magazines. Read newspapers. Read website posts. Read quality stuff. Read some trash too. Read for instruction. Read for amusement. You won’t know much about how writing is being performed unless you read a lot, both the good and the bad.
Become more knowledgeable. An editor can never know too much. Increase your store of general information, and go deeper into areas that interest you. There should be at least a couple of areas in which people consult you regularly because of your known expertise.
Master the craft. Grammar and syntax are your tools. You need to understand the terminology, so that you can explain why you made a change when you are challenged. You have to know what the rules are, and what the bogus rules are. You need to be able to distinguish style guidelines and personal preferences from actual rules. You need to know who the reliable authorities are, and you have to be able to make sensible judgments when those reliable authorities disagree. (They will.)
Go deep. There is more to editing than punctuation and grammar. Train yourself to think analytically about focus, structure, and organization in the texts you edit. A lot of writers write intuitively; editors have to anatomize the parts and make sure that they work togther coherently.
Practice tact. Be courteous and professional to all the writers, no matter how inept and willful they may be. This will build character. Soon you will find that you have as much character as you can support without assistance.
Shun the Luddites. God knows who designed the software, but it probably wasn’t anyone who actually has to use it. Never mind how balky or infuriating it is. When you are confronted with the technology you need to do your job, get a grip on it, and stop whining.
Always admit when you’re wrong.
Don’t back down when you’re right.
Never, never, never heat fish in the office microwave.