It has been a couple of years now that I have been able to make my living as a writer/editor. It's been simply mahvelous. Now that I have a little experience, there are several things I hear over and over.
1. "I'm so afraid to write you an email." Many, many times I've been told that people are afraid to write an email to me or have a conversation with me because there is a widespread suspicion out there that writers and editors are just waiting with bated breath for the world around them to make a mistake so that we can say, "Aha, you fool! You should have said 'whom,' not 'who.' " Perhaps some editors have earned this reputation. A coworker of mine used to get emails back from her copy editor mother with punctuation corrections in them. So certainly bun-tight editors do exist who thirst to cross out your "crispy" and replace it with "crisp." But I'll at least say for myself: I don't care. I edit all day. I hardly want to read your email and worry about whether or not you use the series comma. So relax. A lot of us writer/editors aren't judging you every minute of the day. We have others things to do.
2. "Aha, you fool! You wrote 'your' instead of 'you're.' I thought you were a writer. Geez." Perhaps because the world wrongly believes we are waiting to judge them, you don't get much slack when you make a mistake as a writer or editor. If I'm quickly typing off my Facebook status and I make a typing error, man oh man will I hear about it. The world is jubilant at our mistakes. We're not perfect. And the world adores it when we're not. In my own case, I confuse words all the time. Why, not five minutes ago, I typed "assumed" to someone, when I should have typed "implied."
3. "Oh, you're a writer? One of my life goals is to write a book." I believe one out of every two people I've ever met intends to write a book one day. I wonder if this happens to other professions. When an artist talks to people do they often say, "Oh, I intend to paint a mural one day." Or do people often tell engineers, "Oh, I intend to build a bridge one day." I often ask these people, "What do you write now?" They usually respond, "Oh nothing, I'm far too busy to write." I wonder how runners feel when people tell them, "Oh, I really want to be a runner, too!" and then the runner finds out that they've never in fact tried to run, nor bought running shoes, nor even walked, nor in fact do they actually intend to ever start running until some far distant time when they aren't so busy. I imagine I feel a little like the runner in that situaiton. I believe many people are in love with the idea of writing, just like the idea of running, but not the actual act. I suppose I have a rather romantic view of writing. I write because I can't not write. If you can not write for decades on end without real bother, then I'm forced to wonder if you really are a writer at all. (Not whether or not you can write, which is a completely different matter.)
4. "Oh, my grandma is a writer. I wonder if you can get her published!" If you do not personally want to write a book, chances are that your grandma or daughter or personal trainer or best friend from middle school does. And it doesn't matter if you, the editor, works for a fashion magazine, the person is just sure you can get their 3rd cousin's manucript about beet farming published. Many people have asked me if I could read their manuscript to somehow get them published. Perhaps some writers and editors out there have sway. (If you know them, could you please introduce me to them? My personal trainer is trying to get published.) But the rest of us are just as powerless as you. (Though I always do love talking about writing and ideas.)
5. "So what is it you actually do?" Many people have no idea what an editor actually does. If someone reads a book and can't imagine what the editor had to do with it at all, that book probably had a good editor. For the signs of a good editor is no sign at all. It's only when we read a bad book that we are reminded what editors do (and I don't mean add commas). But I've already written at length about that here.
And now a couple of my favorite book/writing quotes:
"It [a book] is now a thing inside him [an author] pawing to get out. He longs to see that bubbling stuff pouring into that Form as the housewife longs to see the new jam pouring into the clean jam jar. This nags him all day long and gets in the way of his work and his sleep and his meals. It's like being in love." C.S. Lewis, "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to Be Said"
"It is a relief to turn from that topic to another story that I never wrote. Like every book I never wrote, it is by far the best book I have ever written." G.K. Chesteron, The Everlasting Man
"It is usual to speak in a playfully apologetic tone about one's adult enjoyment of what are called 'children's books'. I think the convention a silly one. No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all. A mature palate will probably not much care for creme de menthe: but it ought still to enjoy bread and butter and honey." C.S. Lewis, "On Stories"
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy Visage was so irksome in my sight,
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I wash'd thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
"The Author to Her Book," Anne Bradstreet
"Books...are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with 'em, then we grow out of 'em and leave 'em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development." Dorothy L. Sayers, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club