Editor: Heather Benjamin Company: U.S. Green Building Council Number of years in editing: 13 years
Tell us a little about yourself, including how you got started as an editor?
With a B.A. in theater arts, I started out in administrative assistant roles while doing plays in the evenings, but after a few years, I realized I needed a more challenging type of day job. I had always been a writer and loved books and magazines, so I decided to make a career change into publications. I studied copyediting and found a job as an editorial assistant for a small trade journal, where I was given a lot of responsibility very quickly and learned a great deal. Over the years, writing and editing has gone from being a day job to being my career.
What is your area of focus and why did you select this niche?
As an editor, I consider myself very flexible on subject areas. I’m not a subject matter expert, but I know a little bit about a lot of things. At my company, I edit content on green building and sustainability, something to which I can bring my experience editing for sectors like paints and chemistry, health, and K-12 education, all of which have been useful in this role.
Walk us through a typical workday. How do you manage your time?
Time management is always tricky—what is the top priority, when all the to-do list items are important? I use flexible calendar and workflow tools and keep my email inbox clean, and I keep abreast of event deadlines that affect our publishing schedule. I also work on particular content pieces in a way that aligns with my personal energy cycles—editing shorter, simpler items in the morning and then devoting a couple of hours of uninterrupted time in the afternoon to a substantive edit on a longer piece.
What is your favorite thing about being an editor?
I love learning, and I learn something new every single day as an editor. One of the best aspects of working in different industries is that you realize how interconnected everything is. For example, green building isn’t just about energy efficiency and solar panels. It’s connected to human health and social equity. When I edited for an orthotics and prosthetics journal, I learned a lot about the disability community and the veterans community. As an editor, I get to absorb all this new knowledge while also contributing my own skills to help hone the important messages our staff and members want to get out to their communities.
What is your biggest challenge and how do you work through this?
Not having enough time is always my biggest challenge. Being an editor is like working in a hospital, where you have ER cases that must be attended to immediately, and then when you’ve finished with those, you can move on to the other cases that are just as important, but not as urgent. That’s just the nature of the job. I try to set aside Fridays to catch up on those other “patients,” and to work on proactive items like strategy and future campaigns.
What are you currently working on?
I work on content related to green building and sustainability for my company, encompassing daily website articles and a quarterly digital magazine. This week, I edited articles about advocacy, education and events offerings, and green building rating system credits. On the weekends, I sometimes edit freelance projects such as books, newsletters, articles, and resumes—this past spring, I edited the first novel of a local writer.
What advice do you have for someone who is just starting their career as an editor?
A good editor is a generalist, so in addition to continuously improving your skills in grammar, spelling, and usage, you’ll want to read about diverse subjects. There’s no substitute for reading. It acquaints you with terminology and context for endless industries, topics, and areas of life. Also, being a lifelong learner gives you that valuable “spidey sense” for when a term or phrase you’re editing just seems off and needs to be double-checked.
I would also advise using social media like Twitter as a way to keep up with changes in culture and broader conversations—it’s an easy way to expand the circle of who you are hearing from and follow people who can help grow your knowledge and understanding.