From Editor to Reader: How to Put Down the Red Pen and Read a Damned Book for Fun

Being an editor is great for so many reasons, but I’ll name just a few so we can all get back to writing and creating:

  • It’s nerdy. Cue eraser residue, chalk dust, and inspirational cat posters. As angsty as 6th grade was, there were still some pretty great moments—a lot of them in English class. While everyone else groaned about singing the preposition song, I annoyingly sang it AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY—for everyone who would listen. I eagerly diagramed and rewrote sentences and volunteered to recite poetry in front of the class. Others called in sick on ‘balcony day,’ but I perched myself atop my teacher’s rickety ladder and proceeded to Romeo & Juliet the hell out of a soliloquy. (Things like safety were of little consequence then. Now, you’d have a lawsuit on your hands before you could say ‘Dodgeball!’)
  • It’s methodical. Editors are a weird breed. (I probably don’t need to tell you that.) We’re writers, and we’re over-the-top creative, but we can also flip our analytical switch and focus solely on mechanics when necessary. The methodical nature of editing is quite relaxing and fulfilling. Maybe it’s the way all that red ink and those editing marks lend themselves to a feeling of accomplishment. An editor’s marks are a sign that an author’s work is nearing completion! After a long, hard road of research, drafts, rework, more drafts, and edits, a book finally takes shape—and it’s freaking amazing! It is worth all the hard work, sweat, and tears you put into it. Pretty great reason to love editing!
  • It’s nuanced. The little details of editing are especially appealing to grown-up geeks. Here’s why. Many of us would still be sitting in a musty university library somewhere researching the origins of the ampersand (originally the 27th letter of the alphabet, btw) if we didn’t need to make a living to survive. The great news is that, as editors, we sort of still get to do all that dank, musty research—except now we have laptops and Starbucks, both of which are way more en vogue than old-school card catalogs and micro-fiche.

Super-fun afternoon break idea: Choose a piece of writing and then decide as a group whether or not a specific pause in the writing is worthy of an em dash or if a comma will suffice! (SEEE, editors are FUN people, too!)

Hazards of the Job

If you’ve ever gone on vacation and attempted to NOT be an editor…

Hold on. I’m going to try to stop laughing before I finish that sentence. Starting again…

Editors don’t ever feel like they are on vacation; however, occasionally, they DO attempt to read books for fun. Weird, right? It’s sort of like explaining to kids that their teachers don’t actually live at the school. It usually goes something like this:

  • Editor arrives at beach with family and doles out 4 beach chairs, 2 totes full of everything needed in case of sudden apocalypse: water bottles, flip flops, hats, towels, sunglasses, water toys, shark repellant, snacks, kitchen sinks.
  • Trudges across sand, weighing option of continuing to struggle in flip flops vs. burning feet on boiling-lava-hot sand.
  • Plants chairs, towels, and umbrella in pristine location and shoos kids off to boogie board and avoid sharks.
  • Attaches sunglasses to face and pulls paperback novel purchased specifically for relaxing vacation reading out of beach bag.
  • Sinks into chair and opens to first chapter.
  • At exactly page 7, dog-ears page and works backward to see if protagonist’s name has been spelled consistently. Something seems off.
  • After verifying, returns to reading spot…only to discover accidental extra space before last sentence on page. Marks spot and digs in bag for pen.
  • Reminds self not to edit and ignores extra space.
  • Clears mind, checks on kids who are still safely playing, and flips to next chapter.
  • WHOA! Why is font size 2 pts. larger on this page? Unable to even more forward like this, closes eyes for a sunshine siesta.
  • Tries again later…only to encounter a typo and a factoid about a turtle that is really a tortoise.
  • Puts book down before heart failure sets in.

Ah, the Life of an Editor

If you haven’t yet been through the non-vacation vacation, don’t think you’ll avoid it forever. It will happen to you sometime in your editing career. You’ll sit down somewhere, yearning for unknown worlds and a blank mind—but instead you’ll end up getting a shitstorm of brain noise and the urge to mark all over things with a red pen. It’s unavoidable, so just remember it’s not your fault.

Every now and then, we have to remind ourselves that it all started with a story–and not with a whole bunch of grammar rules. Take a deep breath, order a margarita, sit back and have a good read. Take a vacation, dear editor, discover new worlds just for fun, and enjoy ALL. THE. VOICES.

Here’s What We Know

While vacay practically mandates at least one day of sandy, sunny, margarita-laden book reading with ZERO itinerary and an overload of cat naps, it’s sometimes hard to get our inner selves to cooperate. The pizza stain on page 87 of my new book is proof that I tried.

Before our latest trip, I delivered a mom mandate a little something like, “We’re all going on vacation, and we’re all GOING TO HAVE FUN.” I was determined to set the example.

But for the love of surf and turf, there were factors beyond my control! How was I supposed to kick back while staring at comma splices and run-on sentences? That’s no way to relax.

The Downtime Conundrum

Many people have an inner workaholic that refuses to clock out. For editors, it’s the constant flare-up of Sudden Onset Editor Syndrome that stops them in their tracks. (This should be listed on WebMD so we can research it while we’re up at 1:00 a.m. looking for new ways to kill off characters.) It’s very real and can be debilitating when it comes to reading material for enjoyment or informational purposes.

For example:

Sign at WalMart last weekend:

“All customer’s must wear masks.”

Me (after taking emergency hit off inhaler and tightening belt one notch):

“Honey, do you have a red pen?”

Normal people would be able to extract the necessary information from the above sample signage and then move on with their lives. Editors, however, have a gene that prohibits them from moving past such transgressions without righting the wrong.

Editors lose sleep asking themselves things like “the customer’s what?” and “If we don’t stop this, then who will?” after seeing possessives used to indicate plurals.

Work Your Just-for-Fun Muscle

Here’s what trips us up. The very things we critique for clients, friends, co-workers…anyone, really…are the things that pop up frequently in whatever we choose to read for fun. So just like we flip our switch from creative to analytic/writer to editor, it’s important to work the just-for-fun muscle, too.

After all, we’re not quitters. We will have fun reading, dammit. And we can ignore grammar mishaps for the sake of a good story. (We really can!) It might take modern pharmacological intervention, but we can do it.

There was a magical day when we all picked up a book and fell in love. And know what? That book probably wasn’t perfect. (Top secret insider info: none of them are.) But the story was fantastical, and we disappeared into our imaginations—and that’s what made us fall in love with the craft in the first place.

Let’s make a little more time for that. And keep taking time to look for the voices who are creating magic for future readers.

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