As with All Things in
Life Editing, Be Consistent
I’m an editor—a technical editor: I do more than correct English, less than rewrite paragraphs, usually. My fare isn’t novels or popular magazines but books of a scientific nature, often for professional audiences. I see my work as a collaboration with authors to make the best presentation of their work. To some, the language of science can seem dry, but I do appreciate the creative component of scientific endeavor.
The other day I was writing a note to the typesetter regarding the book manuscript on which we were working. I wrote to her, “As with everything in life, be consistent.” A quick keystroke edited my thought, but it was not as easily erased from my mind.
Be consistent—was that my guiding philosophy for life? As with many, my personality strengths have brought me to my work, and my work, in turn, has reinforced traits that are more desirable in moderation.
There are many skills I must call upon to do my work. For example, I am required to remember numerous minute details at the same time I am considering broader-scale organization, content, and clarity. Having to keep all this in my head, I do miss details repeatedly and am required to backtrack—how was that name capitalized earlier in the book? Why is the acronym different here?
Perhaps the most important skill is having the willingness to recognize when I am uncertain and the patience to check the dictionary, a style guide, or that gift, the internet. What amazes me about my work—well, about myself—is that during a project I know the book intimately, but once I’ve completed a project I can barely remember the title.
I’ve learned a lot about writing from editing. Editing has taught me about precision and clarity of thought and organization. Poor writing may obscure clear thought, and good writing can obscure the lack of thought—but not for long.
With each job I learn something about the profession to which I have arrived haphazardly. For example, although within-manuscript consistency is paramount, it is important to understand the rules and objectives well enough to know when it is appropriate to deviate. After all, clarity for the reader should hold sway.
Likewise in life I am attacking my tendency toward consistency, although I think some old friends treasure me for it.
Correctness, consistency, clarity—there is one C-word, however, that led me away from doing science, for I could not express it there; neither is it satisfied in editing. That word is creativity. It is the creative component of the process that makes the endeavor worth doing. I have to shake this consistency thing. Detail is in the art, but art is not in the details.