Secret editing

The best compliment an editor can get from a writer: “I can’t tell that you changed anything!”

That’s the point of editing, really. You’re making the writer look better by making those words flow more smoothly (and sometimes by making those words make sense). You are there to make the writer look good, but you really don’t want to leave any evidence that you even touched the story (or book or article).

If you have ever written anything professionally, you have probably dealt with an editor who insisted on touching every single sentence, rearranging and tweaking and toying with your copy until it was no longer yours. And you were probably full of resentment and may have even wanted to remove your name as the author of the mangled former masterpiece. I’ve been there. And even if the finished product was “better” in some sense, I was not happy or proud or grateful to that editor.

I’ve also been the heavy-handed editor. Particularly as a rookie editor, I thought I had to prove my worth by scattering my red marks throughout every document that came into my possession. The Subversive Copy Editor addresses this in her post titled “Trigger Happy.”

I still follow the “rules” of the English language and make suggestions when I think something really doesn’t work the way it is. And I do plenty of tightening and revising to make things more clear. But those are the changes writers don’t notice. A writer doesn’t realize that you just said in seven words what he used 15 words to say. A writer will read his piece and know it’s well-written and he will probably assume that he wrote it that way. It’s what he meant to say, after all. (And the humble, grateful writers know what you did and thank you for it.)

Another Subversive Copy Editor tip, which to me should be the first rule of all editing: Do no harm.┬áIt goes hand in hand with the subtle style of editing I’m talking about. If it ain’t broke, well, don’t rewrite it! You may not have written it that way, but the writer did, and it’s HIS writing.

Tread lightly. Leave no trace. And, if it works the way it is, just let it be.

A portfolio of people

In the dreary winter months that began 2009, I was frantically hunting for jobs. I had been laid off from The Seattle Times in December. There were a lot of us looking, and few jobs for us to find. I realized quickly that it was almost impossible to show potential employers a “portfolio” of my work as an editor. Sure, they could see a story I edited on the front page of the newspaper and note how well it flowed or how few mistakes it contained, but they had no way of knowing how much of that was my doing. . . . → Read More: A portfolio of people

There’s no shame in looking it up

As a self-proclaimed grammarian, I regularly have friends or colleagues ask me questions about spelling, grammar and AP style. Sometimes, I can give them an answer. But, sometimes, I have to consult my Associated Press Stylebook or a dictionary. The inquiring friend will exclaim, “You don’t know?!” And, well, sometimes I don’t. Or maybe I’m pretty sure, but I need confirmation. And that’s OK.

The best editors are not necessarily those who have memorized every grammar rule or know how to spell every difficult word by heart. Knowledge of those tricky spelling words was most helpful back before the eighth-grade . . . → Read More: There’s no shame in looking it up