The editor as teacher

I’ve written before about how I am no longer a teacher. How editors aren’t teachers. Perhaps I was hasty in making that statement (over the years–hasty like a tortoise).

We’re not teachers in the traditional sense. We don’t hold classes with our clients (at least no one I know does). We don’t pass out homework per se, and we don’t give pop quizzes.

But speaking for myself, I do teach in a manner of speaking. Every project I do includes comments about why I make each change, if it’s not obviously a correction of an error. Sometimes that’s the case, but often it isn’t. Editing is subjective. Even correcting an error can result in different answers from different editors. (“How would you fix this misplaced modifier?” I can see it now. It’s likely that not all answers will be identical. Nor do they have to be, nor should they be. “Correct” does not mean “identical to mine.”)

I leave comments like “avoid starting every paragraph with the same phrase” and “change up the structure to keep readers reading.” The exception to that first one, of course, is purposeful repetition. I’ve talked about that here.

I also alert clients to their personal tics. Every writer’s got at least one. Prepositional phrases are a common ailment; stringing them together like Christmas lights can either illuminate the text, or annoy the reader. Participial phrases are another one. One client of mine used them so often I likened them to wildebeests, in that seeing one or two at at time was interesting, but an entire herd of them running rampant led to devastation. Afterward, I’d just highlight paragraphs and comment “Wildebeest” and the client would take it from there.

The results were just as good as if I’d done all the rewriting myself. No shit.

So no, I’m not a teacher. I won’t take a client who clearly can’t write a sentence. (They’re out there. Oh, they are out there.) I’m not here to teach grammar.

But I’m here to help my clients write better, and that’s teaching. One of my first clients has grown by the proverbial leaps and bounds as a writer in terms of construction (at sentence and paragraph level). I’ve noticed improvement in others’ work as well, and I can tell when it’s because of something I noted and explained in a previous project.

I suppose that means that while I’m not here to teach GUMmy stuff, I’m still teaching it.



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