My earliest training as an editor was as a reader. Personal reading time as a child and onwards was crucial. I read everything from newspaper horoscopes and tabloids to supermarket flyers and fashion articles to book reviews and history to teen romance and spy fiction. Later, as a university student, I read “serious” literature, communications and philosophy.
Reading widely creates a feeling for language. The rules of a language can be studied but an understanding for language and what it can and should do comes from reading. In short, reading widely creates a sense of taste: what I like, what others like and what is published (which is sometimes different from the previous two).
Work experience is important, too. Work creates real demands on your writing and editing ability. Having an employer or client who requires an end product that accomplishes a certain task keeps your writing focused. Hopefully those employers and clients have style guides for page and content development. If so, these guides are invaluable tools for learning the rules of “good writing” for that particular organization or publication.Like Hemingway learning his rules of the trade from his Toronto Star editor as a cub reporter, so I learned (in my humble way) editing, copywriting and proofing principles as a page design assistant for an old-school course designer. This experience was formative for my career.
Since then, graduate degrees, certificate programs and writing for different professional purposes have sharpened my editing and writing skills for different contexts. I have written and edited general interest magazines, academic papers and courses (including some for developing writers), and technical and business documents for public and private organizations.
The key is to keep growing . Improvement requires active work. So I advise the following:
* Read everything that can help you write better for the contexts in which you work and build a toolbox of tried and true references. Read guides for online writing (McGovern’s Killer Web Content), the classics of English style (Orwell’s Politics and the English Language) and staple references (The Chicago Manual of Style).
* Take courses to freshen up your skills. Recently I took a technical writing course to remind myself of what I can and should be doing to write for a new employer. Don’t rest on your laurels.
* Keep learning about new media and adapt. Publishing platforms keep changing and expanding. Read guides about new media for a sense of how to keep your language alive and useful in ways that are appropriate for different formats and audiences.
* And finally, practice. Exercise your writing and editing muscles by editing and writing as much as you can even if it be in a personal journal.
Remember that language is a tool supported by other tools. Taste + continuous practice + growing knowledge = formula for the ever-developing editor and writer.