Village blacksmiths and steamboat captains are no longer in high demand. Technology calls for new job skills and renders others obsolete. My first freelance editing contract applied a skill that’s fast going the way of long division: editing for fit.
Once upon a time, not so terribly long ago, physical multi-volume encyclopedias were typeset without benefit of computer. The cost of revision went up with each page that needed to be re-set. When a noteworthy event necessitated updating a page, editors tried to leave the surrounding pages untouched to limit cost. Any change on page 197 had to be offset by other adjustments for the text to flow smoothly between the existing pages 196 and 198.
A sheet of clear plastic, marked off in lines and columns, lay over the galley proof of the page under revision. Did a column run too long? What about widows and orphans, those pesky solitary lines at the top or bottom of a column, cut off from the rest of the paragraph? Did the closing sentence break at the same place as before? Fitting each page was a puzzle to solve by such tricks as substituting synonyms or shifting paragraph breaks.
Apart from physical newspapers and magazines, there’s not much call for this editing skill any more. But it holds an analogy with daily life. How can I schedule to begin and end my day at the desired time and place, with the right amount of activity between? Can I combine errands or split up social events, or swap activities of different length between one day and the next? Each 24-hour day is like a printed column with a fixed number of lines, a puzzle to edit for fit.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.