Student guest post: Editing, style and fashion

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the eighth of those posts. Alex Norton is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in editing and graphic design and communication studies. He loves writing and editing, but he says his true passion lies in clothes. He’s hoping that these two loves will lead to a life and career New York a la Carrie Bradshaw.

Whether or not you’re an editor by trade (or in training), editing is present and important every single day. We edit emails, edit our thoughts to make them into words and we — or at least I — edit the millions of garments out there to create a single stunning outfit.

Picking an outfit is just like producing a news story, really. It’s a lot of work, a lot of stress and, if it’s a particularly difficult one, a lot of junk food and cigarettes.

The research

As a reporter, when you’re assigned a story, going into the writing process blind can and most likely will lead to a subpar story. A good reporter will research the history of the story, the key characters, events and components, as well as the future of the story and what the audience needs to know.

Research for me is Vogue. It’s “Fashion Police” on E! It’s gq.com. Going into preparing an outfit without knowing the designers, the retailers, the fads, the fashions, the accessories – and most importantly, the “fashion don’ts” – would only lead to a subpar outfit that is going to leave Joan Rivers (critics), my peers (audience) and myself (reporter and editor) disappointed. If my newspaper of an outfit isn’t of the highest quality, no one will be interested in buying me … getting to know me.

The facts

History is important, as Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly so graciously showed Anne Hathaway as Andy in “The Devil Wears Prada,” but the most important thing about composing an outfit for the day is the trend of the day. You wouldn’t write an article about a story that was out of date; I wouldn’t wear a basketball jersey or a snapback for the same exact reason.

These trends are the facts of the story: Without them, there is no outfit worth looking at.

The composition

By far the most strenuous part of creating a story is the actual writing: A reporter not only has to organize all his research, but now he has to put it together in a way that is attractive to a reader and that represents him as a writer as well as his employing institution.

Like writing a story, putting together an outfit is hard work. I spend at least 10 minutes every morning staring at all my sources, evaluating each one individually for relevance, uniqueness and quality. Once I know what I want to put into my story and what I’m going to leave out for the day, I can get dressed.

Rarely do I produce the perfect outfit on the first try, so my dressing process goes through quite a few rough drafts that my audience will never see.

The editing

As an editing student, I consider editing the most important part of a story’s life: It’s here that it is polished and readied to face the world. Any causal “typos” I may make in the morning when choosing pieces of my outfit – putting on a brown belt and then deciding on black shoes, wearing clashing colors, etc. – must be caught and corrected before I go out into the world.

I have to consider my audience, the time period and what my outfit needs to say. Sometimes I even have to scrap the entire outfit and replace it with a backup.

The publishing

Publishing is when the finished story – after being researched, written and polished, is debuted to the world. A story is made public as soon as it hits newsstands (or even sooner in the case of a Web story); my outfit is published when I walk out the door. At first glimpse, the focal point of my outfit – the centerpiece – has to catch the eye of a passerby (or even a regular reader) in order for me to capture the attention that a composition on which I’ve worked so hard deserves.

It’s after this publication that I and my story must face indifference and scrutiny, but a positive letter to the editor in the form of a compliment on my new boots from a stranger makes the whole process worth it.

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One thought on “Student guest post: Editing, style and fashion

  1. Great comparison!

    I’ve always thought about the task of writing and editing as being part museum curator, part dinner table conversation – there is an endless amount of detail and context you can provide, but only so much space and time available to get the message across. In a museum, gallery space is limited, and at a dinner table, if you can’t tell a story quickly, effectively and in a way that entertains, you’re wasting everyone’s time and hogging more than your share of oxygen. The same is true in a newspaper or other publication – you pick the best, most useful information to transmit, and hope readers pay attention to you long enough that they can walk away having learned something or gained some insight.

    The fashion metaphor also works, and I’m definitely going to use that one with my staff.

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