Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Better Editing Through Poetry

Freelance editor Gayle Johnson offers some unexpected advice in today's post: If you want to be an editor, study poetry! I think she definitely has a point, and I could name quite a few editors who are, or have been, poets.

If you’re in college and are interested in becoming a copy editor, there’s one class you should take that you might not have considered—poetry. Analyzing and writing poems can help you sharpen your editing skills.

When you think about poems, the concepts of rhyme, meter, imagery, and symbolism probably come to mind first. But poems also incorporate the concepts of precision and economy of language—as does copy editing.

The brief nature of a poem allows its author to distill a topic to its essence. In this art form it’s crucial to choose exactly the right words and to use no more words than necessary to convey an idea or image. In a poetry class, you examine poems at a micro level, breaking them down line by line and word by word, considering why the author chose certain words or even certain sounds. Analyzing text at this level is good practice for many of the issues you’ll face as a copy editor, when you’ll have to make decisions about word choice and reducing redundancy.

Experienced editors know that most authors are not experts in word economy. They’re more likely to write “gives a good indication as to” instead of just “indicates,” or “have the ability to” instead of “can.” That’s why editors need to be adept at decreasing wordiness.

Check out the following links to learn more about poetry analysis and word economy:
  • This Wikipedia article is an introduction to analyzing poetry.
  • The independent weekly newspaper Nuvo offers Haiku News—current events condensed into minimalist poetic form.
  • The self-explanatory Four-Word Film Reviews reduces movie plots to their core—often with a twist. These witticisms are an excellent exercise in word economy.

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