The Writer’s Toolbox – No Expert

Whenever a friend or family member has a question about grammar, spelling, usage, or language, they come to me. Sometimes I know the answer. Sometimes I don’t.

“Oh, but You’re the expert,” they say.

“I will be after I look it up,” I reply.

Editors are often seen as keepers of a sacred trust?as gurus who have internalized a treasury of language-related knowledge they can dispense at will. But It’s not a static profession at all, and if I’ve learned one thing, It’s that taking editing seriously involves a lot more than memorizing a style guide. In fact, in order to develop as a professional, I need to embrace the fact that language changes, technology changes, and culture changes?and that as an editor, keeping up with it all is the greatest privilege my profession affords.

Language trends come and go, like the gradual acceptance of the singular they (as a smoother, simpler alternative to clunky workarounds like he/she)?or the determined chipping away at non-rules advising writers to never, ever split infinitives (ahem). Words appear in the dictionary?words that show where and who we are as a culture and society. Linguists choose words of the year to reflect the direction of language and give us communicators food for thought. New trends in communication emerge, like emojis, and grammar enthusiasts debate whether It’s acceptable or even preferable to use nonstandard punctuation in media like text messages.

It’s virtually impossible to, as they say, “know all the things,” but It’s definitely possible to pursue this goal?and It’s a whole lot of fun.

If you work with words, make 2016 the year you embrace knowledge. Let it come organically, of course, but seek it out. Read widely?not just in your sub-industry or genre, but outside it, too. Seek out non-traditional venues and guides. Less traditional sources may not be preferred by publishers and news organizations, but they can give you a pulse on popular terms (and advise on the most common spelling of “douchebag”).

Join professional and other organizations?or find a local meetup or critique group. Attend conferences whenever you can, thinking of your conference fee as an investment in your career (and if you volunteer a chunk of time, you might get a reduced rate).

Participate in forums to learn what editors and writers are talking about right now. There are Facebook groups, of course (just make sure you join groups that are promo free), but also forums elsewhere?two popular choices are KBoards and Absolute Write.

There are many subgroups out there too, like forums for fantasy authors or indie writers, and narrowing your focus can make what you read more relevant?as well as filter out some of the information overload! But don’t ignore trends or discussions relevant to other sub-industries or genres, either. Commit to exploring an area outside your comfort zone once in a while, and you might discover something highly applicable to your own work.

Shy? It’s okay to lurk for now. Grab opportunities to be present for conversations and discussions, even if You’re not quite ready to jump in yet. You’ll gain confidence and knowledge, and eventually you might surprise yourself by offering to help someone else.

Above all, never feel embarrassed that you don’t know everything just yet. You know more than you did?and That’s a victory in my book!

Here’s to a happy and fulfilling 2016.

Christina M. Frey is a book editor, literary coach, and lover of great writing. For more tips and techniques for your toolbox, follow her on Twitter (@turntopage2) or visit her blog.