"What does this mean?"I sputtered, raising my hands in fury at the author. Some fifty words were pretending to be a sentence and it was my job to unmask them.
I was copyediting for the IGDA newsletter, having just finished a submission from a Japanese speaker with charmingly direct English, if a bit raw. The current article by a brilliant game developer was written in fluent, yet utterly incomprehensible English.
I was on the final two sentences, but rewording them while capturing their nuances was quite difficult. I wasted almost half an hour on the first sentence when I realized that I could simply obliterate it. What remained was a simple, powerful conclusion. I leapt up, crowing at having captured all the major points in half the length. It was a beautiful refactoring, and with it I had conquered one more shitty writer. Another one bites the dust. Hell yeah.
After settling down, I realized that I had unconsciously considered my copyediting to be a refactoring, a programming term for making code more pleasing to the eye while maintaining functionality. The comparison rang true, but, as a professional programmer, it made me uncomfortably aware of my deficiencies as a developer. I was far more self-conscious about my code than I was about my writing, and the author could literally school me in programming. My cocky celebration no longer sat right in my mind.
It also occurred to me that the parallels between copyediting and refactoring came from deeper similarities between code and literature. After all, both code and prose are beautiful when brief and easily read. Both code and prose are sources of pride and insecurity, often simultaneously. And both code and prose improve significantly when written with empathy for the reader. It was this empathy that I was missing.
My disdain for the essayist now seemed small-minded and conceited. I had committed worse crimes while writing code. If I could be forgiven for my transgressions as a developer without fear of ridicule, I was obligated to extend the same opportunity to this person as an author.
Humbled, I returned to my task: skinning punctuation, paring off words, and chopping paragraphs, knowing that others could just as easily dissect my code.