When I became a tutor in Autumn Quarter of last year, I didn’t think that tutoring would necessarily help me out in my future career. I want to be an editor for a book publishing company and sure, at first, I thought that working at the Writing Center meant editing student papers. I was soon disabused of this idea. Tutoring, I was told, was collaborative, and it’s the writer’s responsibility to make all of the changes. The “no red pen” rule sounded like a death knell to my hopes of being able to practice editing as a tutor. It comes as a great surprise, even to me, when I say that now, as of my final quarter as an UCWbL tutor, that I’m confident that I will become a better editor because of my experience as a tutor. Tutoring may not allow me to slash-and-burn student papers, but it has given me far more useful (and subtle) tools for my arsenal as an editor.
I first realized how much tutoring resembles editing when I thought about how people tend to think of editing. For a lot of people, the quintessential image of an editor is a stone-faced authority passing judgment on “what is good grammar,” pen in hand, crossing out great swathes of text and saying boo to the writer’s concerns. It fits neatly with the writer-as-autonomous-artist, scribbling away and pouring his heart and soul into a paper manuscript, possibly at a nice roll-top desk.
Neither of these images has been true for a long time, if ever. Instead, writers collaborate with editors (or literary agents working as editors) sometimes as early as the proposal stage of a nonfiction book, or the first sample chapters of a novel. The editor works with the writer to determine the direction of the book, to hash out inconsistencies in the writer’s plotting or argument, and to talk about such nuts-and-bolts things as marketing appeal and possible audiences. Sound familiar yet? Like tutors, editors are not simply interventionist authorities, the end-all and be-all decider of the final product. They work with (with) writers early and often, working to fit the writer’s voice to the writer’s vision and considering audience expectations and formal concerns.
As tutors, our job is lower-stakes. The writers that we work with may not be read by anyone other than their peers and professors, and the tutor doesn’t have a deadline (or a bottom line) to worry about. However, I would definitely argue that the act of tutoring greatly resembles the act of editing, as it exists in publishing today – and the skills we learn from tutoring can make us great editors. Editors must help their writers understand why a change should be made, must make a writer feel valid and capable, and must know when to sit back and let the writer take control of their work – all things I have had extensive experience with as a tutor. Tutoring may not resemble how I used to think of what editors do, but it certainly resonates with my experience of what editors actually do.
What I’m getting at, obviously, is that as an exiting tutor, you’re not always immediately sure what role tutoring will play in your future life. That it will play some kind of role seems inevitable, but it’s hard to see what shape that effect will take. I’m sure it will make me a better person in the long run and all that jazz, but it’s comforting to know that it has a purpose in my career trajectory as well. I’m sure other tutors can find ways in which their tutoring skills will show up again in their future careers, whether they plan to be editors, teachers, accountants, or ballet dancers, but as I prepare to wrap up my time here, it is nice to think that it mattered.