The Real Poop
It's a whole lot of fun to correct people. Everybody loves the guy at the party who interrupts a hilarious joke to inform the joke-teller that he’s using non-parallel sentence structure. Want to instantly make a new friend? Try returning a collection notice to the collection agency with all of their typos circled in red pen.
Okay, so in real life, we can get away with quite a bit. Most people aren't going to be too niggling when it comes to our everyday speech, or get on our case for improper grammar usage in an email. You would think some people don't realize the "shift" key even exists.
But in the realm of published materials, we need people who thrive on crossing out, correcting, and cleaning up after others' messy writing.
An editor is not, however, someone who merely pores over pages upon pages of text fixing spelling errors and grammatical gaffes. That's a proofreader. To be an editor, you actually have to be able to make revisions and improvements to content. If that sounds like more work and pressure than you were expecting, by all means become a proofreader. Good luck not getting bored with life after the 10,000th time you have to change "your" to "you're."
Editors are writers, really. You won't generally be creating work entirely from scratch, but your—sorry, you're—working alongside novelists, journalists or other writing professionals and helping them work out all the kinks, making each project flow as smoothly as possible and ensuring that the writer’s intent is achieved.
You may also deal with the front end of things—sifting through query letters to pick out a promising concept, or helping your literary firm decide what its current needs are and what projects should therefore be sought after. Finally, you may supervise and oversee production of completed works. You’re basically the parent of literary works. You adopt them, raise them, lose sleep at night thinking about them, and eventually send them out into the world. They just won't return to take care of you once you’re an invalid.
When considering a career in this field, you may want to consider the future of the written word. As you may have noticed, newspapers and magazines aren’t doing so hot lately. If Superman were around nowadays, Clark Kent would likely be blogging from his home office. True, it is quicker and easier to publish content virtually than physically, and the onslaught of new technologies and electronic reading devices have provided for a slew of new alternatives for writers and media outlets, but much of that content has such quick turnover that editors are not used. For the major publications, sure—but looking over Joe Blow's blog, What I Had for Breakfast This Morning, it’s doubtful he employs the services of a professional. Not unless he actually did have a Belgian warflle with stawrburries.
Huh. Looks a lot like waffle and strawberries.
For now, plenty of jobs for editors still exist. But with our attention spans shortening from one generation to the next, and the growing demand for purely visual mediums, one has to wonder if we’ll be devouring fewer pages and more pixels in the near future.
Assuming you're able to snag yourself a sweet editing job though, don't expect it to be a walk in the park. Or even to have time to take a walk in the park…ever. The job is extremely demanding of your time—most editors spend several nights a week plugging away into the wee hours (so named because they're so busy they barely have time to wee wee), to meet deadlines and to go over a piece for the 30th time to ensure they haven't missed anything. There is a ton of pressure on them to make zero mistakes…and since we humans are somewhat error prone, it's a lot for a publisher to ask. But ask it they will.
Add to that stress the idea that their job is not purely about catching boo-boos—there's also the creative element to it. So whether they're in touch with their muse or not, they need to take the rough piece of writing they have been given and make it ten times better. It's one thing to feel passionate about something you've written yourself—your baby, if you will—but it can sometimes be tough to get excited about a piece some other bozo turned into you. Ah, well. Part of the challenge. Time to take the article on "New Fall Fashions" and spice it up so that neither your readers, nor yourself, fall asleep reading it.
He's probably just playing asleep to fool Santa.
For all the headache and heartache, at least you are putting something out there into the world. Whether you are thrilling a reader with a fictional story about espionage, or informing an investor about trends in the market, or helping someone pick out the perfect pashmina, you are the last line of defense before a piece of writing makes it into cyberspace. Or onto bookshelves, if they still exist.