Editing in the 2010s 1/2

The process of writing starts by composing but ends with editing. Most of us call the process a necessary evil. But because a piece of writing ultimately belongs to the people who read it, we must fine-tune our draft so that (almost) anybody will get it, sometimes even the author. Someone in Japan said that the definition of good writing is to write only what you can write in a way everybody can understand. The editor does the second part of that definition.

What editing is about

Editing on the surface looks simple. Correct the grammar, point out logical flaws–if possible also cop-out statements, omit unnecessary words. Most people associate an editor with phrases such as organizer, proofreader, or even grammar police. A giant panda eats shoots and leaves. It does not eats, shoots, and leaves. If it is true, the editor should point out that the object of the shootout is missing. *

Therefore, the editor’s role seems one of the slow-changing requirements in the fast-moving 21st century. Editing is shaping up our thinking and understanding process. How can such an essential, if moderately mundane, job requirement be in drastic changes like every other professions are these days?

Even editors (need to) change

The answer is both “Yes…but” and “But…yes.” Everything changes, and the position is no exception. How are the roles of today’s editors changing, and what challenges are awaiting them? Let's forget external requirements for contemporary editors that have changed in recent years–fluid workplace, increase in ESL (English as Second Language) readers as well as writers, and technological advancements. Here I would like to focus on one element that is the most challenging of all: an editor’s own attitude.

Today’s editors need to change their mindset from the traditional writer-oriented into the new reader-oriented. In other words, editors nowadays are required to work for the audience, not only for the writers with whom they have directly collaborated in the past.

Reader-oriented thinking (yet again)

The reader-oriented mindset has been required for a long time, probably since the beginning of the history of editing, but its importance has increased to the point that it is now the center of the attention. Why so? It is because readers and writers no more live in separate worlds.

Nowadays, especially since the beginning of the 21st century, everybody is a writer and a reader simultaneously. The Internet and associated services have democratized not only writing but also publishing. Many of us traditionally labeled as mere “readers” maintain blogs and write short articles on social media on daily, or even hourly, basis. When the world of writers and readers become together, there is not much point in focusing only on one side of the story. Thus, the reader-oriented mindset should really be called the writer-and-reader-oriented mindset.

Changing ourselves = biggest challenge

It is often said that of all the changes required in our life, changing ourselves is the most difficult of all. It certainly applies in this case. Editors have been the master of applying changes to others (=manuscripts) based on semi-timeless rules and usages. Now they increasingly find themselves on the other side, required to adapt themselves to the new reality.

What should they do? To be continued…


* Some editors do a better job than what's listed there. The following is what I consider the greatest work from an editor. Penelope Trunk was wondering if high income women get more oral sex. The editor justified her statement.

“Let's assume that men give oral sex only because women ask for it. That's probably 95% true. Then who asks for it? Women who consider themselves at least equally deserving of that sort of consideration -the women who are going to be better earners because they are educated enough to know that they deserve it (both the income and the oral.) So I think they are coincidental, not causal. A woman who earns more has the self-confidence (and the self-worth, boosted by external factors like earning ability, education, etc.) to ask for oral.”