A large part of my “journey” from IT professional to editor is bolstering my own confidence level. While I’ve edited, copy edited, and proofread over a dozen novel-length books and scores of shorter works — both for myself and for others — I haven’t done this work as an editing professional. That, when put alongside the generally unstructured education I received in grammar (Hey, it was the ’60s; we didn’t burden ourselves with rules), means that while I have an innate command of the English language, I sometimes struggle to put into words exactly why an error is, in fact, an error.
The curse of being an autodidact is that I can miss things in my self-learning curricula, and that means I often fret about the completeness of my skill sets. The old 80/20 adage states that most of the time (80%), you only use a small portion (20%) of the skill set; conversely, the lion’s share of the skill set is seldom needed. In teaching myself a new skill, it’s relatively easy to learn that first twenty percent, but it is deuced hard to uncover the secrets of the infrequently used remainder.
As you can imagine, these gaps erode my confidence. Big time.
To counter this, I’ve been studying like mad. I quizzed my editor friends about classes and coursework, and received some guidance on what is of value and what might not be. Some suggestions were easier to implement than others.
On the easy side was getting in contact with the American Copy Editors Society (ACES). Membership isn’t cheap ($75 for both working professionals and newbies like me) but it comes with access to training, education, a mentorship program, and several discount opportunities.
For one such discount, ACES has partnered with The Poynter Institute’s News University to create an editing certification program. Normally $150, my ACES membership allowed me to take this course for only $75. Comprising six modules on topics from grammar and usage to verification techniques in the Digital Age (very educational, that one), I found the program to be of great value. True, The Poynter Institute’s focus is more on journalism than on editing — they’ve partnered with such news giants as Gannett and McClatchy — but even so NewsU has a variety of editing courses that I plan to take. Their prices are reasonable, and the ACES membership provides discounts of 50-66% on many of them.
Another outlet of educational and testing materials comes from the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook itself. One of the two giants of the style book world (Chicago Manual of Style being the other), the AP Stylebook is a must-know for those editing news, corporate, or marketing materials. It’s a subscription deal that gives you access to the sixty or so archived quizzes plus ongoing access to new ones, which seem to be published every month or so. At $6.95 per year, it’s certainly worth the money (assuming you have a need to use the AP style).
One skill for which training material has proven to be elusive is the old-school style of proofreader markup. You know, those red pencil carets and squiggles that editors scatter throughout your MSS like confetti on New Year’s Eve. While most editing these days is done digitally (via “track changes” in a Word document, etc.), there are still some situations where paper-and-red-pencil techniques are required. Think of it as playing scales on the piano; you may never need to do it “in concert,” but it beefs up your technique and provides a strong foundation for all the other things you need to do.
Unfortunately, almost all the proofreader exercises I’ve found either teach digital proofreading or are geared toward school-age children. None of them provide the complexity or breadth of scope that I want. Since finding work in this field often requires an editing/proofing test, this is an important skill, and I need to do more hunting for good material.
To date, I’ve completed the Poynter/ACES course and received my certification. I hope it will prove to prospective employers that I’m serious about this, and it has bolstered my confidence level (scoring 100% on the grammar/punctuation/usage tests was a big boost). More study, more exercises, and more tests are in my future (as is trying to give up on the serial comma, which I adore and defend, but which is not in the AP style … sigh).