A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops.
People who played part shaping my confidence were writing and editorial mentors who did their work by heart, and not so much by theory. Yes! They were my senior and managing editors, and professional writers, whom once upon a time I stumbled upon and I wish to encounter more of. I still remember their names: Jessie, Ivan, Akshita, Varsha, Jamilia, Usha, Sir Byron, and another South African, English guy whose name I’ve forgotten.
I miss those days when my manuscripts were scribbled on, in red ink, asking me to improve here and there. Worse, it wasn’t only for one chapter. For packages that were assigned to a team, each of the team members is in charge of six to eight chapters, whereas for packages that were assigned to individuals, we had to do up to 20 to 22 chapters. (By the way, ‘packages’ includes textbook, workbook, practical book, and teacher’s guide).
While some people might feel irritated about the scribblings, because they had to re-do the work, I was on the contrary extremely happy. Knowing that my work was actually read, and that there was actually people who indeed cared to improve the way I worked on content and language, made me feel precious.
They didn’t only teach me how to refine my language, but also how to make a passage readable, i.e. reader friendly. How to create the best visual representation for a likely boring or rather difficult concept; to rearrange sentences and paragraphs so the content flows; and also to improve the content by suggesting incorporation of new content; those were the topics highlighted in those days.
On the latter, suggesting new content, was some time not easy; merely because to get some authors to write more were almost impossible, especially after all their completed manuscripts were handed over to us, the editors. To overcome this issue, we, editors, often had to write the new content for them and asked their approval on it.
Although it seems that editorial process involves complex procedure — writer, editor, senior editor, editor, writer, editor, senior editor, managing editor, and so on — it eased my mind knowing that the published outcome would be close enough to ‘worthy for public usage’ after thorough review and refinement from qualified eyes. It fascinated me how different individuals, writers and seniors I was privileged to be in contact with, saw a topic from different angles, and to be able to put those great ideas together into lines of textual and visual representations in most effective manner gave me thrills. I love and miss learning from them!
Once or twice, the publisher wasn’t so lucky, signing in credible authors who, despite being experienced in the subject of the book, had little skills in producing readable writings. When this happened, editors surely had more work to do when preparing the manuscripts for review by their seniors. I too had similar experiences. With my seniors’ backup, I asked the corresponding author for approval of the new content. While most authors were generally ok with the improvement, one or two would be rather stubborn, thinking they were better than the multi-skilled eyes working on their manuscripts.
I really miss my mentors. They made me humble because I still had a lot to learn, yet they noticed my potential by backing me up where I was correct, giving me commendation they thought I deserved. Even from the worst managing editor, I learnt good points on content development, which I’ve carried through till today.
It is unfortunate that many people nowadays don’t realise the importance of editorial stages, thinking that a so-so writer would be sufficient to produce their documents. Even the managers, who often had little time to read a piece of written material carefully, are not aware that despite thorough briefing, what is put into writing may contain misleading information. One of the reasons is because different people may grasp the same idea in different manners. Therefore, to have multiple eyes reviewing the write-up would minimise, if not prevent, misrepresentation.
Furthermore, I wish writers today are more humble, accepting that they may be wrong and seeing editorial process as an act of learning from those who have more knowledge and experience in the field. When writers are left to think that they can write well, without anyone providing constructive feedback, ego may overcome them and they may never improve.
Worse still if writers see feedback as their enemies, thinking that those comments have been given to put them down. That’s a childish mindset indeed!
… No matter who you are, you’ll always be too close to your own writing to actually see what’s in it…
Today, even though I’m no longer with those mentors of mine and I’m privileged to be in charge with a team of writers myself, I still don’t feel satisfied. There’s still a lot more to improve on. There’s still a lot more to learn. So, will you be my mentor?