With some training, almost anyone can be a decent editor, but few can be good editors. Being a good editor requires something special—that X-factor which we all need to pray for. Ask and it shall be given unto us. Yes, let’s ask Him for editorial knowledge and wisdom.
Editing is like striking a balance between forest and trees. Most of us focus on the trees, but the good ones specialise in the forest, too.
An average editor uses mostly her left brain (an eye for logic and organisation), but an above-average editor uses her right brain as well (the ability to read the manuscript while not actually reading it). Indeed, the dozen odd family-owned publishing houses in Singapore need editors of the second kind.
You might be an editor if…
• you couldn’t resist pointing out grammatical errors in your colleagues’ “edited” titles;
• you used mark-up symbols when you read a periodical;
• when reading your church bulletin every week, you found yourself thinking, “This could be tighter”;
• you knew the names of the big shots of your competitors;
• you complained of the poor quality of a preface or blurb;
• you felt sex ranks a distant second to the thrill of editing your Acting CEO’s e-mail;
• you unfailingly read the imprint pages of every new book you find in your local bookstore;
• in a fire, you would save your complimentary copy of your edited textbook, then your travel document;
• you could recite the rules of punctuation like the catechism or the national anthem;
• you decided a few sentences on any manuscript that the writer is bogus;
• you could tell which similar title your “writer” had plagiarised;
• you got upset when a semi-colon should have been used instead of a comma;
• you could still copy-edit your company’s newspaper advertisement for a new managing editor;
• your spouse sent a long-winded email which could have been tightened in five sentences;
• you nearly fell off your chair when you read the formal correspondence of your seniors;
• you were shocked at the kind of “editorial pornography” seeping your company’s published titles;
• you refused to resign even though you’re working for a socially irresponsible publisher;
• you had complained for the nth time about the questionable quality of your company’s writers;
• you still dreamed of working under a capable managing editor and an ethical general manager in a-not-too-distant future;
• you would rather read “How to Speed-Edit”* than watch “Singapore Idol”;
• you have spotted at least three linguistic faux-pas while reading this post.
The art and science of editing
Editing is both an art and a science. The mechanics of editing may take a year or two to master, but the aesthetics of editing is a lifelong learning journey. Until Singapore maths editors consciously use their right part of the brain to nurture their creative side, Singapore will continue to have a second-class educational publishing industry in a first-class economy.
* Speed-Edit may sound like an oxymoronic, editorial activity; but rest assured, cohorts of “moronic editors” have almost perfected this grey art of editing.
© Yan Kow Cheong, November 28, 2013.