I have a rather ambivalent relationship with reading and writing.
In my early years I read fiction voraciously and wanted to be a fiction author. I read only for entertainment, so I gravitated to genres such as adventure, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and comic books. Accordingly, I refused to read “required readings” for school if they were uninteresting; I would simply skim them or read the Cliff Notes in order to pass the test. Later on this habit resulted in much trouble for me, since I presented myself for a time as a literature major in college. That was a mistake, but I managed to barely get by.
At some point around the age of 14, though, I found myself pondering the ideas in fiction more than the plots or characters. This resulted in me briefly considering myself a poet. However, I was too pragmatic to accept it as a vocation, and people around me were a little baffled by what I wrote, so it fell from my consciousness. A few years later, around the same time I discovered that I did not actually like reading “classic” literature, I also discovered that other poets found my poetry pedantic and stupid.
At about 15 I thought maybe I would be a journalist, but again it did not seem like a practical way to make a living, so I eventually moved away from it. Later I made peace with journalism in a graduate class focused on “literary journalism,” but by then it was not really a career option. This class also resolved my conflicted attitude toward writing classes; for years I had enjoyed expository writing even though I had despised every class on writing. By this time, I had discovered on my own the joys of rhetorical analysis. Most likely the reason I hated writing classes was because writing teachers have an irrational fear of rhetorical analysis.
I was probably 15 when I turned to books that focused just on ideas, and I started to wantonly browse the shelves for books on philosophy, psychology, politics, and theoretical physics in my father’s library, the public library, and the bookstore. My peripheral interest in the ideas of theoretical physics unfortunately led me to believe that I was suited to study engineering, but after a couple of years I decided that I was not. I never followed the delusion that I should become a philosopher, psychologist, or politician.
Eventually, my eclectic reading interests and obsessive proofreading led me to consider myself an editor. I found that the technical aspect of editing, often disparagingly referred to as “copyediting” or “line editing,” was beyond the capabilities of most writers and scholars; it is hardly even acknowledged as a useful skill among people bearing the title of “editor.” Those who can do it, moreover, are rarely inclined to, because it is tedious and unrewarding. Yet, it is far more rewarding as a vocation than retail sales or unskilled factory work.
The only real downside to editing as a profession is that most people think of an “editor” as either a crusty, old, small-town newspaper editor or a sophisticated, glamorous New York magazine/book editor. These people only know of editors from cartoonish stereotypes in movies. It is too difficult to explain to these people what “editing” is.
Then there is a second tier of people who have actually worked with editors occasionally. The scholarly types view editors as uncultured, uneducated trolls who constantly try to clutter their prose with “citations.” The amateur fiction authors think an editor is like their kindergarten teacher: someone who will correct their spelling with a red crayon, pat them on the head when they draw within the lines, and change their pants when they soil themselves. It is too aggravating to talk to these people without a signed contract and a cash advance.
I tell aspiring authors that I am not interested in editing fiction because fiction authors are not actually interested in writing.
Recently I have decided not to reveal to new acquaintances anymore what I do for a living. It is enough to say that I read all day long, I like to play music, and I like to take long walks.