Editors Weekly: Zen and the Art of Editing

This article was originally published on The Editors' Weekly, the official blog of the Editors' Association of Canada.

Zen and the Art of Editing

I’m a punctilious person. I care about the details. I care about things being “right.” Formalities matter. Systems matter. Process matters. And I’d wager most professional editors would identify similarly. And while I consider this trait its own kind of superpower, it’s not without its downsides. When you work in-house, where you rarely have the autonomy and authority you would like, it’s easy to get worn down by bureaucratic imperfections and inefficiencies.

I have experienced the burnout that can occur when you feel you are just not making a difference. I have experienced how unhelpful it is when that stress and frustration bleed into non-work contexts. I am no paragon of mental health, but I know I’m not alone in these struggles, and I thought sharing my strategies might be a good way to start a conversation.

  1. Take a break: Be sure to take your vacation time and unplug as much as you can on your days off. We all need time to recharge and regain perspective.

  2. Socialize: One of the biggest perks of working in-house is the colleagues. They are certainly experiencing similar frustrations and challenges. Hopefully, there are at least a couple you are close to. Support and encourage each other.

  3. Focus on what you can control: Where does your power lie? At the project level, I focus on cultivating positive relationships with project managers and authors and do my best to influence them to do “the right thing” voluntarily. At the organizational level, I cultivate relationships of trust and respect with the leaders closest to me in the chain of command and actively manage up. Leaders can’t fix problems they don’t know exist. And I try to always come to them with solutions — not just problems.

  4. Find the biggest wins: I save my energy for the battles that will net the greatest possible value to the readers for whom I am advocating. I invest a lot of energy in ensuring that documents are well structured, that the introductory material is easily understood by the broadest reasonable audience and that it’s clear as day what we are asking affected stakeholders to do or understand. If that means we run out of time to really hone things “properly,” that’s okay. I maximized the value gained in the time available. As the saying goes, “don’t let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good.’”

  5. Revel in your successes: I naturally perseverate over the negative. With practice I’ve gotten better at focusing on the successes. I do routinely have satisfying and effective collaborations with authors. And every year or two I get a file where I can effect dramatic change. These successes sustain me when things get particularly frustrating, and they over time build a portfolio of work that shows authors what’s possible.

  6. Professional help is available: Don’t be afraid to seek out counselling services. Whether it’s for your career, a relationship (that includes work relationships) or personal mental health, talking to a professional can help you stay healthy and find a path forward that works best for you.

  7. Leaving is always an option: Sometimes the grass is greener. Even if you’re not ready to abandon ship just yet, there is freedom in at least knowing that your resumé and LinkedIn profile are up-to-date and what other options are out there.
Profile Photo Aaron Dalton aaron@daltons.ca Aaron Dalton Perlkönig Perlkonig Canada Alberta --05-09 Gamer, programmer, editor, baker