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enjoy or wurk*

January 22, 2013

Before I stopped reading books, I got a (library) book on WordPress blogs, thinking ahead to the other blog I intend to start on my hosted website. I’ve spent more time trying to figure out what I want to do with that blog, but have always come up short. I finally figured out there must be stuff missing in how I’m looking at the situation, but I don’t know what that stuff is, so I can’t just go out and find it. That’s when I realized that I need to start writing again—maybe that will help me figure out what needs to happen.

Because I learn best by doing—planning is mostly not helpful—I’ve learned that sometimes the problem is not what’s missing, it’s what sequence the pieces are put into play. If I’m doing a jigsaw puzzle and I do all the edges first, grabbing ahold of a piece that goes in the middle won’t tell me anything useful right then. There’s no proximate context for it. Maybe that’s what’s happening here.

I’ve also been thinking really hard about what I want my business to be. And I’m no longer sure that trying to be an editor, even a developmental editor (rather than a copy editor) makes any sense at all.

I actually have aptitudes for a bunch of clerical sorts of tasks. I am an excellent alphabetizer, so I am great at filing things alphabetically or numerically. (I once had a temp assignment where we had to file folders by Social Security number, without dashes. I was excellent, although doing it gave me a headache; everyone else was terrible, and I kept finding things misfiled. When I suggested to the supervisors that they add dashes to make things easier for everyone else, they decided I had an attitude problem, and they asked me not to come back.)

I loved doing data entry. (I hated the lousy pay.) Because of my mathematical aptitudes, I’m really good not only at accounting, but at catching errors. (Which was more relevant before everything was computerized.)

When there are rules for things, I somehow fold them into the gestalt in my mind, so that things that follow the rules ‘look right’, and everything else . . .doesn’t. Not for accounting or anything that has to be exact, but with writing, or even with maps, if something doesn’t follow the rules to the letter, but it kind of works anyway, somehow, I like leaving it be. A little quirkiness in the world is a good thing. If I have to justify it to someone, and I can, then I will, but I always hope it won’t come to that. Because I’ve had micromanaging bosses who didn’t understand about ‘professional judgment’, and they annoyed me to no end.

So for the last 7–8 months, I’ve been on a listserv for copy editors. Most of the people on the listserv either work directly for publishers, and have done so for their entire careers (which are 30 or 40 years because most of these people are Baby Boomers), or they are freelancers who work for publishers or directly with authors. Every once in a while there’s someone like me who had a job (or jobs) not connected to publishing, they picked up editing along the way, and because they were good at it, they thought about it as a career. When I’ve mentioned my background on the list, a bunch of people told me I had no business calling myself an editor, because I clearly didn’t know anything, since I didn’t have the exact same background they all have. At first I bristled with indignation. But now I’m starting to wonder.

These people are clearly very good at what they do, and the ones who post the most often are pretty pedantic. There are lots of discussions and arguments about word usage and other relevant topics. And in the end, things get decided by appeals to authority, usually one dictionary or another. Occasionally by consensus, but still backed up by ‘this authority says X is correct’.

I’m not naturally drawn to rules. I admit they make some things easier, like driving in traffic. I’m not opposed to rules on principle. But I’m decidedly Chaotic. Most of my friends have tended to be Chaotic, or Neutral. The occasional friend who turns out to be Lawful, well, there’s a bunch of stuff we just have to agree to disagree on. I may really love them, and they me, but on some level, we really truly do not understand each other. And the closer we get to those sorts of issues, the more nervous/skittish we each feel.

From everything I’ve seen on the listserv, most of the prolific commenters are probably Lawful. Appeals to authority. . . wow, just writing those words, I literally can’t think of anything positive to say. I’ve spent my entire life trying to escape authority figures, and their pernicious influences on my life.

I’m still good at fixing sentences, improving word choices, increasing flow. But I won’t tell you that my suggestions are based on Merriam-Webster, 11th edition, or whatever. Because they’re not. My process is much more intuitive; it’s based on what ‘feels right’. And I don’t actually enjoy reading lengthy email conversations about a bunch of the stuff that occurs on the list. I do enjoy lengthy conversations that compare and contrast various ways of doing things; I always learn something from those.

I just don’t think I’m pedantic. And maybe to be a really good copy editor—or at least to be one consistently employed by publishers or authors—I should be pedantic.

So that’s giving me pause.

And there is developmental editing, which, because it’s not rules based, I thought I would actually be better at and enjoy more.

According to the people on the listserv, and other things I’ve read elsewhere, developmental editors generally arise in one of two ways: they were copy editors, and they transitioned into developmental editing (even though the skill sets are rather different, and most people are not good at both); or, they were some other kind of editor in a publishing house, like an acquisitions editor, and they transitioned from that direction. I haven’t done either of those things.

I have found sequences of classes I could take online to teach me developmental editing skills. They are expensive, and they are long. And I still don’t know how I would get anyone to hire me.

All of this is a lot of work for something that I chose . . . partly because I thought I was already good at it. And I know from graduate school (if not from undergraduate), that it’s perfectly possible to spend thousands of dollars on education, and then still not be able to get a (better) job at the end. I’ve had about 25 jobs, and only 1 or 2 seemed to offer more money because I had a certain level of education. I didn’t actually go to college because I thought it would get me better jobs, although my parents insisted it would. They were wrong. My main problem with this scheme, though, is twofold: (1) I already spent 17 years of my life attending college. I’ve also taken non-credit classes elsewhere. I paid for all of these classes (before 2008) by (2) working at a job, where I earned money. I don’t regret going to college. I always enjoy learning things. But I’m not independently wealthy, and I haven’t earned any income since 2009. Since we moved to Maryland, I’ve taken (iirc) 8 noncredit classes, that I paid for out of my savings. I enjoyed 2 of them. That’s not promising.

A few days ago, something else occurred to me. A much bigger issue. I suddenly understood what I really wanted to get from doing developmental editing. And it didn’t have anything to do with editing. Or with writing. So doing developmental editing probably wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as I’d been thinking/hoping.

All of that leads me right back to writing. I can take classes in writing if I want to, and one of the two classes I took that I enjoyed was a writing class. But I can also just write. I’m not sure people make money at writing, but I’m not much motivated by money anyway. I just like writing. When I don’t do it, like the previous 10 days, I miss it. It’s become an integral part of my life.

My old life died, but writing remains.

The 10 days I was off-line, and was not writing, I took baby steps into this new life. Where nothing is familiar. I can’t take anything for granted because nothing is the same as it was. I’m still attached to Spouse, but even that relationship, I’m reconfiguring from my side. So for the first time in my adult life, I have no obligations that I didn’t choose. No obligations that I chose when I was desperately lonely. No obligations that I ‘fell into’ just as I was about to otherwise have to find out what I’m made of. I’ve been running from myself, from my own inner truths, since about 1973. Because it wasn’t safe or smart to figure out what I needed, since there wasn’t any way to get it. That’s not true anymore, and it hasn’t been true for years, but there was so much detritus confusing the issue, that I couldn’t discern what was real and necessary, and what was neither. I was afraid to let go of anything, in case I disappeared altogether.

Ereshkigal entered my life, and I’ve been learning to let go.

From the far side of those 10 days, I recognize them now as a sort of ritual death. My friendships died. I changed my name. I acknowledge that I’m not sure what gender to call myself, but it’s definitely not part of the binary. I’m listening to my hands, and they’re telling me what they want us to do together. And I’m starting to do it. I’m exploring the edges of my own boundaries. I’m improvising with people, new and old. And I am not committing myself to anything new.

My apprenticeship has ended. My journey has begun.

*Ideally, I’d like both.


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