Them: “Wait you work for The Daily Californian? That’s so cool! Do you write for it?”
Me: “Umm no, I copy edit. So I edit articles that other people have written and place them in the newspaper and come up with headlines and stuff!”
Them: “Oh. That sounds cool … ?”
Working at the copy desk is a much more unimaginative job than you might expect. Now don’t get me wrong — I absolutely love this job, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. But the reality is, a copy editor’s job description looks a lot like what it sounds — we edit things that other people have already written. Is that a problem? No, absolutely not. Someone has to do it, and it’s a pretty damn important job. But I can’t help but wonder: I spend my time editing work rather than composing my own — does that mean I’m somehow lacking in the creativity that writers possess?
I was always an avid reader, so in some regard I guess that means I had and continue to have a great appreciation for creativity. I dabbled here and there with writing and poetry, but nothing ever really stuck. Though I enjoyed reading the thoughts that other people took the time to weave into a story and write down, I really wasn’t so interested in doing that myself. There I was — seemingly the only lover of English literature and language who was a pretty lousy creative writer herself.
Now, I’ll be honest. I won first place in the writing fair in third grade for my pseudo Beauty and the Beast-Cinderella story about an ugly, destitute girl and a handsome prince. And I did, in the years after, do relatively well in my creative writing and literature classes, so I wasn’t completely inept at the whole — to quote my main man Alex from “Madagascar” — “putting the words together and their coming out” thing. But for whatever reason, what I really excelled in were my grammar classes.
There was something about the uniformity and the structure of English grammar that really fascinated me, and it was something I picked up very naturally. With the sole exception of pronoun conjugation, which took me some time to master (or memorize for my quizzes, I should say), everything just made sense to me. Every time I learned a new grammar rule for something that I had subconsciously been doing anyway while I talked or wrote, it was like putting the final pieces into a puzzle when suddenly you’re like, “Wow, that’s how this is supposed to look.”
Now, I understand. For most people, grammar is just like, huh? We all pretty much know how to speak and write intelligibly, and the minute intricacies of the English language seem insignificant as long as people generally know what everyone else is talking about. But, think about it, that’s exactly the thing. As English speakers, whether native, secondary or language-learners, we all know the importance of grammar. If grammar degrades, then communication becomes very difficult — it becomes hard to even “generally” know what the person across from you is saying. We all use and follow grammar rules, whether we like them or not.
I will admit: It isn’t imperative for everyone speaking or writing in English to have the same grasp on the English language that copy editors are required to have. But to be completely honest, it’s a pretty useful skill. Even though English is my second language, I definitely know English grammar rules much better than those of my native language, and English is my primary language of communication in my everyday life. It really is a great feeling to know exactly how to construct a sentence and to be confident that I am doing it correctly, and I suppose that’s why I enjoy copy editing so much. It’s less about correcting someone else than about helping them make their work as perfect as it can be.
Working at the copy desk may not be the most creative job at the Daily Cal — I for one am probably one of the least imaginative people in our little staff. But we for sure are some of the most detail-oriented, AP Stylebook-knowing individuals out there. I’ve spent so long comparing my skills to those of the people whose articles I’m editing that I really lost track of why I love being a copy editor in the first place. Being a copy editor doesn’t mean I’m not creative or that I don’t value creativity. What it does mean is that I have an uncommon appreciation for the behemoth that is the English language and that I have decided to use that passion for something useful. And, besides, we at the copy desk come up with pretty bad-ass, punny headlines, so if that isn’t a testament to our ingenuity, I don’t know what is.
Contact Rachel Henry at [email protected].