This morning was the last day of class in my twenty-fourth year of teaching editing at Loyola University Maryland. The concluding remarks to my students are briefer than the Miranda warning on the first day, because they have been listening to me for fourteen weeks and there’s only so much the human spirit can bear.
Here’s what I leave them with.
Before you go, I want to remind you why editing is important.
Here is something Alexander Hamilton said in the first number of The Federalist: “It seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”
I want to carry this point beyond governance to show that “reflection and choice” are precisely the benefits that you as editors can offer readers. You are helping writers bring the whole world, or at least some corners of it, to readers. You are helping writers achieve their purpose of explaining some aspect of human experience in comprehensible terms, to make sense of the world for the reader.
Then, when you have given the reader clear, accurate, comprehensible information, the reader is empowered to reflect and choose, to make informed decisions about all aspects of life, rather than living as mere objects of accident and force.
This is something worth doing. This is something worth spending your life doing.
And it will take your whole life. This is how Chaucer put it:
“The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.”
“The life so short, the craft so long to learn.”
Or if you prefer the jocular version, there is Lawrence Kasdan’s “Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.”
I’ve had a few weeks to give you just a taste, a glimpse, of what is involved in editing. Mastering it will take all you’ve got for as long as you’ve got. I hope that you will take this beginning and build on it, steadily increasing your mastery of this obscure but essential craft.
I am still hoping to get better at it myself.