It was exhilarating to receive my first copy of the New Plains Review. I’ll never forget what it felt like to flip through its pages and share my work with my friends and family… and that might sound a little odd. My work. Of course, I didn’t write the stories or create the art features. I didn’t even get to decide the font we used. That said, I had spent the last sixteen weeks diligently revising every single story, blurb, and byline in that issue. No one outside of the editing room knew about the knock-down drag-out debates that we had over misplaced commas, but for the first time in my college career, I had physical proof of what I “do” for a living. Unlike the stories and anecdotes that I had picked up from the various odd jobs I had held up to that point, the journal in my hand was something I could pull out at a moment’s notice to answer every concerned aunt, uncle, or family friend who wanted to know what I planned to do with a BA in English.
Needless to say, when I then began to work with digital publications, it felt somewhat “empty” to know that I would never get to physically hold the manuscripts I slaved over. Sometimes, these projects didn’t even end in a book or journal. Instead, I found myself writing email templates for business communication, calls for submissions, or onboarding material for my future coworkers. I thought this would be boring. These documents weren’t résumé material. They were filler designed to get us from point A to point B. That said, I began to see them the same way I looked back on those editing sessions with the New Plains Review. I wasn’t just editing the journal; I was helping to create a framework that extended past me. My documents were being used by graphic design artists, social media managers, and even university faculty members. As I seemingly sank into the background, I was rapidly entering the larger realm of technical writing.
Now, as we continue to explore what the working world looks like amidst a pandemic, I find myself appreciating these digitally born documents more and more. While nothing quite mimics the act of physically marking up a draft, that style of editing is becoming increasingly impractical. Even the process of keeping up with thumb drives feels tedious now. These days, it doesn’t matter if my fellow editors are a block away or in another city entirely; we are working together on documents seamlessly. File hosting platforms that I previously took for granted have now become crucial to my daily tasks. In fact, I have not one, not two, but four of them pinned to my taskbar right this second.
It took me several years to see that being an editor meant so much more than simply revising manuscripts. As a freshman, I had seen the endless lists of titles like “copyeditor,” “line editor,” and “content editor” and assumed that these each represented a unique editing faction—one of which I would have to commit the rest of my career to. Now, as a grad student, I see how these skill sets intertwine, not only with each other but with the jobs and tasks surrounding the publishing process. It seems that one day I’m a research assistant and the next, a website administrator, and yet my paystubs still credit me only as an editor. I may not have a bookshelf lined with every document I have created and/or revised, but that doesn’t rob my work of any validity. If anything, it has encouraged me to support other digital publications in kind. These massive digital archives allow users to instantly follow literary and academic rabbit holes that previously took years to develop, and people like me are making these connections happen. And that’s what’s most important: the community is still here, whether we physically print or not. It has never been a better time to be “the man behind the curtain,” even if you’re the only one who can really see the extent of it.