I, like most millennials, love technology.
I love winning arguments by Googling an answer, paying for my parking spot via iPhone and posting endless pictures of my dog instantly. At work, I love that I can quickly refer to online style guides for assistance then send off files for approval at the speed of light.
With all this excitement and innovation, something had to give. And as they say, digital killed the editorial star—or something like that.
Copyeditors are being laid off in droves at publications across the country (and it shows: here, here and here). With the popularity of social and digital media, everyone became an author, thereby eliminating the need for editors. This simultaneously built up a tolerance for poorly constructed narratives, made-up words and generally terrible adaptations of spelling.
The thing about editors is that you don’t notice when they do a great job, but always notice when they don’t. Their impact is often invisible, obscured by someone else’s byline or brand. I like to think of good editors as shoeshiners—they make your words look pretty but don’t change the overall look and feel of your work.
But enough about why editors matter, I want to talk about why editors matter to me.
I’ve been writing since before I could read (it makes sense if you have your parents spell every single word for you), and I’ve also had the benefit of having my own personal editor the entire time—my mom. She’s currently an editor at the Washington Post and worked at a number of newspapers throughout my upbringing.
For years I would hide papers from her because I didn’t want her “tearing them apart,” but when I finally did ask for her help on my college admissions essays, she patiently sat with me to construct a more evocative story without taking away my voice or shaming my sentence structure. She was, and has remained, my biggest fan—once referring to me as the next Lena Dunham.
Four years later, I graduated from college with a degree in journalism. Over the years, I’ve worked for various magazines, newspapers and marketing teams and I’ve always benefited from having some truly great editors by my side. At BatesMeron, the copywriters double as copyeditors, and it’s a role I’ve grown into thanks, in part, to the wisdom of my editors past.
At my very first real (read: salaried) job at Kansas State University, I shared a small office with another writer named Trevor. He was the quiet to my loud and the concise to my flowery. He was also the red pen to my stark white paper. He would patiently accept my articles and press releases only to return them bleeding red ink off the page.
At first I was aghast—I had never been edited so hard in my life. But instead of protesting, I chose to learn. He wasn’t changing my writing, he was making me look better. His innate understanding of the rules crossed with a superior understanding of the way people read are skills common only in truly great editors. They’re skills I hope to emulate someday.
I worked with Trevor for just under 18 months, but at my next jobs I often messaged him from many states away to ask about proper capitalization or punctuation. He always took the time to help me out, which helped me build up my editing acumen.
It’s been almost a month since Trevor passed away from a near-year battle with an aggressive form of cancer, a fight he faced valiantly. Though he was just 28 years old, it soon became clear that he left a legacy of great editing and writing. Friends from college, former internships and K-State all remarked on Facebook about what a steadfast editorial sidekick he was and that we’re all better writers for having our words shined up by him.
Trevor’s editing wasn’t invisible, and in fact, lives on through a whole host of people’s writing. He made his mark on this world in hundreds of ways…a lot of them just happen to be in red ink.
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