A couple of weeks ago, I attended my first Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) conference in England. It was great to visit a country I’ve long wanted to see, and it was even better to meet some UK edibuddies in person.
Like all editing conferences, SfEP’s was brimming with lessons and networking opportunities. One pleasant difference I noticed from North American conferences (editing and otherwise) was longer coffee (tea) breaks. Instead of one 10- or 20-minute break during the day, we had a full 30-minute break in both the morning and afternoon, which resulted in no back-to-back sessions. This gave attendees more time to network and eliminated the need for those quick hallway conversations as you run to the next session. Not only did I have better conversations with people, I also didn’t feel as wiped out at the end of the day.
Another interesting difference was the mix of sessions. As with North American conferences, SfEP’s conference had many sessions on editing niches, freelancing, and technology. But there were more sessions on language-related topics than I’m used to, which I loved. I jokingly called the first day of the conference “Hero Day,” because I was able to hear several of my language heroes—Lynne Murphy, Geoff Pullman, and David Crystal—speak on the same day. (Cue fangirl squeal.)
Being an editor means being a language expert. As editors, we must continually study grammar and stay current on language usage. We can’t be lulled into blindly following zombie rules such as not splitting infinitives, a point this year’s Whitcomb Lecturer, Times columnist Oliver Kamm, made clear.
“Bad editing takes these fictive rules and crams them into a manuscript,” Kamm said. “Prescriptive guidance needs to be based on facts and evidence.” In other words, we need to research common usage and apply it.
It’s a reminder that we editors need on a regular basis.
Kamm revealed his general writing philosophy and the best editing advice he’s received: “Write the way you talk to your peers.” The goal isn’t to write down to people but to write to them. Don’t think of the audience as knowing less than you. These are “intelligent people who know different things from you,” he told us.
“The role of the editor is best performed by being invisible,” he said, ensuring the writing stays true to the author’s voice. Where we can’t stay invisible is in our relationship with our writers. We need to practice diplomacy to bring issues to the writer’s attention and find workable solutions.
This, too, editors sometimes forget when the editing process isn’t going smoothly. Approaching the writer in a way that acknowledges both parties’ expertise and leaves the final decision to the writer, whose name will be on the manuscript, is a delicate balance but one worth achieving.
With these reminders of who editors are and what we need to be successful at our craft, Kamm sent us off to learn from experts and each other, at a more leisurely pace than this editor is used to. Thanks, SfEP.
I’ll be sharing more of what I learned at SfEP’s 2017 conference in future columns. Stay tuned!