Learning from other creative industries (II): in which an editor learns from a typographer

This is the second of four posts about the business of interdisciplinary learning amongst creative industries.

I said in my previous post that I like to attend interdisciplinary creative events. Here is an example of the kind of learning that arises there. 

I had the good fortune to attend a meeting of CamCreative where typographer Jeremy Tankard was speaking. Jeremy is by all appearances a confident, sane, balanced individual who apparently undergoes a character transformation at work, where evidently he agonises and obsesses – big time.

Jeremy was outlining the process of designing a new typeface. He talked about the problem of deciding how the half-arch bit of the letter ‘r’ should join the vertical line (he used the correct technical terms for these components, but I forget what they were). His difficulty lay in the knock-on effects this would have for other letters, such as ‘n’ and ‘m’. 

This is not something I have ever worried about, nor something I’d ever expect to lose sleep over. But then I’m not, and never shall be, a typographer. But I am an editor and a writer – and as he talked I realised Jeremy had given me a helpful metaphor for articulating the processes of editing and writing.

For those processes are full of knock-on effects of this kind. If one switches to 3rd person in one place, as I just have, one will probably need to go back through the text and make other such switches. To people who don’t like writing – especially editing their own work – this annoys them intensely (just as I’d pretty rapidly lose patience with the problem of the joining bits of r, n, and m). But to people who enjoy those processes, the knock-on effects can be wonderfully intriguing – and, in fact, one of the main sources of pleasure.

Difference in attitude to knock-on effects is I think one of the strongest dividing lines in writing. For me, it is precisely in the process of attending to knock-on effects that I become most aware of language as a medium – and it is this that gives me the greatest sense of kinship, as an editor and writer, with other artisans who work media (painters or woodworkers, for example).

Drawing the analogy with Jeremy’s typographical problem has helped me not only to articulate my own practice, but also to work more effectively with writers to help them develop their approach.


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