The lighter side of editing

The lighter side of editing

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mantra Therapy for Those Who Edit Their Text Messages

Who edits text messages? Who shrieks in horror when they realize they’ve just hit Send on a text with a misspelled word or—gasp!—without a comma before a conjunction joining the final element in a series of three or more items?

Silly questions.

I do, of course. And if you happen to be an editor or anyone else who is careful with words, I bet you do too.

The burden of pathological correctness

When words are your life, people expect you to be “on” all the time. They expect your words—spoken, written, e-mailed, texted—to be the right words, in perfect order, properly punctuated. It’s kind of like being a comic and having everyone expect you to be hilarious at all times. This is what I call the burden of pathological correctness. It’s hard to relax, let your hair down, spell stuff wrong, forget about punctuation. You always, always, always take the time to spell words out completely and insert apostrophes where appropriate. You don’t write Gr8! or dont tell mom. It’s always Great! and Don’t tell Mom.

As I said, it’s a burden.

It’s just a text. It’s just a text. It’s just a text.

One way to lighten the burden is to remember that a text message is an ephemeral wisp of a thing that barely even exists. It’s here and then gone, deleted, forgotten. No one will remember that you texted your significant other to “pickup milk, bred, & mangos.” But you’ll know. You’ll remember.  And so will the FBI if they have reason to hack your phone. “Aha! Two misspelled words, and you used a comma with an ampersand! You know what the penalty is for impersonating an editor? Huh, buddy?”

That imagined interview may be a bit dramatic, but that’s what it can feel like when you accidentally send a message that is somehow wrong. You want to pull it back and fix it all up before sending it out into the world again. You start making up excuses: “My thumb slipped.” “Who can see the letters on that little screen?” And everyone’s favorite, “Damn Autocorrect!”

But what you need is not a way to retract a misspelled message, nor is it another excuse. What you need is a mantra. Like this one:

It’s just a text. It’s just a text. It’s just a text.

Recite this to help yourself relax whenever you’re composing a text message (and by the way, if you “compose” your texts—like I do—boy, do you ever need this). Then just hit Send. The bad news is, you’ll send more texts with mistakes in them. The good news is, you won’t care. Much.
First, meditate on your mantra. Then hit Send.

A multipurpose mantra

People have told me that they proofread every text message they send to me because they worry that I’ll judge them if their texts contain errors. I feel two ways about this. First, there’s some sadness that friends and family feel they have to somehow guard their words around me. I’m really not a judgy sort of person…  Well, I’m not too judgy, not about little things like texts… Okay, I am judgy, even about texts, but I keep my judgments to myself (it’s not like I’m going to send back a corrected message; haven’t done that in months).

My second feeling about people editing texts is “Yay! Less dreck in my life!” I never say that out loud, though. What I say is, “Oh, you don’t have to do that. Who cares if there’s a little typo in a text?” Unfortunately, people think I’m honest, so some of them take me seriously when I say this. The result? More mistakes in my received messages.

Fortunately, the texting mantra works just as well when you’re on the receiving end of an error-filled text.

It’s just a text. It’s just a text. It’s just a text.

Don’t we all feel better already?

Photo credit: Stock images from GraphicStock.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

In Memoir, Don't Ignore the Larger Context

Yes, this is interesting...
Quite a few years ago, a colleague of mine proofread a memoir whose author had been a young Jewish girl in Poland during the Second World War. Sounds compelling, right? Sadly, in this case the story was more frustrating than compelling, because the author made absolutely no mention of the war or its effects on her or her family. Instead, her story focused entirely on the young girl’s direct experiences, most notably (or at least most memorably for the proofreader) her being bitten on the leg by a goat.

Leaving too much out 

I don’t mean to suggest that this author’s life story was not worthy of being written down, and I’m sure her descendants will love that detail about the goat, but it felt like a big part of the story was being left out. Surely it would be frustrating or confusing for the reader to know that larger events—horrific events—were happening in that time and place but the author had decided not to include any word of them in her life story. And what about a future reader who might come to the story with no knowledge of that history?

...but don't forget to
mention this too.
Now, I suppose it’s possible that somehow this girl’s family shielded her from any knowledge of events surrounding them. Perhaps she was just too young to be aware of much beyond her leg and her goat. But surely the Holocaust and Second World War warranted a mention, even if it was only to say that as a young girl the author was blissfully unaware of these things.

Your story comes with a context

Your story is just that—your story—but it takes place in a larger context of place and time. That larger context matters to your readers, so give them at least a taste of it. You don’t need to provide an extensive background on world or national events; a few well-placed sentences can often do the trick, and the focus can be local if that is what is most relevant to your story.

Some of the older guys were getting drafted and going to Vietnam, and some of them didn’t come back. I wasn’t thinking much about that, though, not with the state baseball championship just a week away.
 That was the time of the Big Snow, January 1945. Almost four feet of snow on the ground, roads would get cleared only to drift over again, a neighbor across the way took sick and died because the doctor couldn’t get to him. And there sat I, stuck in our old farmhouse, about to burst with my first baby.
 The above sentences provide some context without going into unnecessary detail. They’re just enough to let the reader know a little more about how your story fits into the bigger picture. Whether you’re writing primarily for your own family or for a wider audience, your readers will appreciate that information—along with the more personal details of how you were bitten by a goat or stuck in the snow or threw a baseball through the living room window.

Picture credit: Goat photo and German soldier stock images from GraphicStock.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

I Stop Editing When I Start Seeing Giggles

Editing is intensive work. It takes a level of concentration that a normal human being can sustain only for a limited time. An editor can go a little beyond that time, but still, we all come to a point where we just can’t think anymore.

In my case, though, my eyes often give out before my brain does. Sometimes, with my tired, scratchy eyes, I see things that aren’t there. For example, not too many weeks ago, I copyedited a book by someone who was once in a rock band. I was editing along late one afternoon when I came across a sentence very similar to this:

We giggled for the rest of the year.

“Gee,” thought I, “that’s a long time to giggle. There might have been marijuana, but still….” Then I blinked my eyes hard, zoomed in from 180 to 200 percent, and… Oh, gigged. They gigged for the rest of the year. Well, that made sense, for a rock band.


It was time to step away from the manuscript. I’d edited for a good five hours, and that’s my limit. If I do more, I start seeing giggles everywhere.