How Do I Define Success?
By: Carmen Williams
Success. What does it mean? What does it look like? How do I know if I have reached it? How do I define success in my life and my work?
Success can mean many different things for different people; it can also mean many different things for one person. That can make success seem elusive and hard to obtain, or it can be a revelation and an inspiration for growth and hard work. Defining what my personal success looks like has been a journey in and of itself; reaching that goal of personal success and setting new goals and standards is a journey that will continue throughout my career. For me, success is not an endgame, it is a daily challenge.
As a freelancer, success means constantly striving to grow my business and bring in new clients while establishing a reputation that keeps people coming back to me. As an editor, though, being successful is a bit more nuanced. To me, being successful in this field means working to ensure that my client’s book/magazine article/essay/paper is the most well-written and clear it can be so that his project has success. Success as an editor means that I have enabled my client to put forward the absolute best writing of which he is capable. If I am successful at what I do, that means improving someone else’s work and contributing to their success. Editing, ultimately, is a behind the scenes job.
My journey to success started with an excellent education, culminating with a degree in English, that I worked hard to make the most of, then continued with ongoing training specific to editing, copy-editing, and proofreading. To stay on this road to success, I have to put in the time to stay current in my field, reading each new edition of the different style guides and keeping up to date on industry standards. All of this makes me very good at my job; but, it is only the beginning of what I believe makes me successful.
Writing, in whatever form, is an intensely personal activity. When you write, you put your beliefs, ideas, passions – a little bit of yourself, in other words – on the paper. To be successful as an editor, I must be able to take that piece of the writer and treat it with respect. I must be able to hear her voice in what she writes and see the message she is trying to convey before I put my editor’s hat on. Then I must only make corrections or suggest changes that will honor and hone her voice while highlighting and clarifying her message or story.
In order to do this well, I must establish a dialogue with my client and build trust so that we are working together to create the best end result possible. When I edit, I make corrections, changes, and suggestions and the writer needs to trust that I am working to improve his creation, not critiquing or judging. The writer also needs to know that he can give me input and I will listen and that we can work together to get it exactly right. To me, successful editing is a collaboration.
Success as an editor also means standing firm when I know I am right, even if my client disagrees. Because writing is so personal, it can be difficult to be objective about changes that need to be made. Sometimes a client disagrees with a change that I make and digs his heels in about the necessity or value of that change. In these cases, our conversation needs to involve me standing strong on my decision, based on my experience and knowledge, and explaining my position clearly. These conversations are not always easy and sometimes end with a parting of ways; I have learned, though, that I am not serving my own or the client’s success by giving in when I know I am correct and ending up with a project that does not meet my professional standards.
Finally, for now, being successful as an editor means convincing writers how essential editing is to successful writing projects. In this age of self-publishing and e-publishing, it is so easy for a writer to get her work out there for consumption that a lot of writers forgo the step of hiring a professional editor. After all, it can be expensive and you can always find someone to read what you wrote and correct the spelling and grammar errors your computer didn’t catch, right? But an editor does so much more than just correct errors; an editor assures the author’s work flows well, that any inconsistencies are cleared up, and that the intended audience will truly enjoy the author’s work and learn and grow from reading it.
Successful editing is not a hatchet job filled with rivers of red ink, but a subtle dance of reworking, rewording, and reducing that leaves in its wake a project that feels the same as the original, but cleaner. For me, it is so fulfilling to lead that dance and to be part of the reason a writer’s ideas find an audience and soar. That is why my personal definition of success as an editor is making sure my client is successful.
Freelance Editor, Copy-Editor, Proofreader, Manuscript Reader