Category Archives: Editing

Editing with beginner’s mind

Recently I encountered the Zen concept of beginner’s mind. “The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all the possibilities,” according to Richard Baker’s introduction to Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

“When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something,” wrote Suzuki in that book.

As I begin my new job, this sounds like a good attitude. Yes, I have experience and expertise, but editing pieces of writing that are new and different to me, for new and different people, means I will need to learn. The answers and solutions I have applied elsewhere may not be exactly what are needed.

As I approach the situation I can be open to discovering the client’s needs, the writers’ needs, the readers’ needs—and what I can do to help.

I can see that beginner’s mind can be helpful not just in a new position of employment but in taking on any new editing task. I’ve learned to listen to people who know more than I do, and there are plenty of those. If I have “no thought of achievement, no thought of self,” I can approach new editing assignments not merely as one who makes corrections but as one who is “open to all the possibilities.” That sounds to me like a good beginning.

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Editorial heavy lifting

How physically strong does an editor need to be? Lately I’ve spotted a few ads for editors that say the editor must be able to lift 35 pounds.

Is this a genuine requirement? When I was young and worked at a couple of book publishers, I did indeed move a lot of cartons of books weighing more than 35 pounds. The companies had small staffs, and people pitched in with other tasks as they were able.

However, I wonder whether some of the current advertisements for editors really involve heavy lifting. I suspect that the requirement to lift 35 pounds may really be a way of weeding out older applicants.

What do you think? I welcome your comments.

 

Real Quotations

I have a new feature on my website: Real Quotations—quotations I’ve come across with pictures of their sources. (Actually, so far there is only one, but I plan to add more soon.)

As an editor, I spend a lot of time trying to verify quotations. Sometimes the author provides a source, making my job easy. At the other extreme, an author may provide a dead hyperlink or nothing at all. There are numerous “quotations” websites, most of them unreliable: you can find five versions of the same alleged quotation and little to help you verify it. (An exception is Bartlett’s, an old, public-domain version of which is online at Library Spot.)

So I decided to start posting good quotations I find, but I don’t expect other editors to have total confidence in my transcribing ability, so with each quotation, I’m posting a picture of the quotation itself and of the title page so that the primary source is there too.

The first one is a quotation I came across last year, from the Rev. Neil Pezzulo: “Even though my influence may be limited, it is not irrelevant.”

Including quotations in a document

“How do I include quotations in my document? Should I change their language and spelling?” In a new post on her Libro Editing blog, Liz Dexter answers these questions. She explains “how to insert quotations into a text, including what to do if they are in a different variety of English, whether you should change the spellings of quotations and when it is acceptable to change a quotation,” to quote the summary.

She also answers the question “When can I use [sic] in a quotation?” and presents “the golden rule of including quotations in your text.”

Her blog post not only will help editors who need the rules for quotations laid out simply and briefly, it is a good piece for editors to provide to writers who may not know the rules.

When It’s Time to Restrain a Writer

The editor “will see to it that the sensibilities of the readers of the book have been respected and not unnecessarily offended,” says Words into Type (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974, p. 57). I earnestly wished that the editor had followed this instruction with Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling (New York: Doubleday, 2015). Bryson is an entertaining, best-selling, humorous writer who occasionally has been a bit crude. In this book he went beyond being occasionally crude and used the f-word a lot, along with a bunch of crude and obscene terms. I’ve enjoyed some of his other work, but I was sorry I borrowed this one from the library and glad I didn’t buy it.

Words into Type doesn’t say never to let an author offend readers. Sometimes controversial content needs to be published, and some people won’t like it. In The Road to Little Dribbling, there was no need for Bryson to be a potty-mouth. Probably some readers didn’t mind, and probably some found it funny. But his humorous observations didn’t require crudeness, and the book would have been better and just as funny with more restraint.

So how does an editor see that readers are not unnecessarily offended and that their sensibilities are respected? I’ve never personally had to remove obscenity while editing, but I have occasionally had to keep authors on course. My advice is to respect the author’s sensibilities and not unnecessarily offend the author. Where editors recognize a digression, the author may see a jewel of writing. The editor can point out which portions detract from a piece of writing and how they may limit the readership. In my experience, the best authors are open to correction. Still, you may present your advice politely and respectfully and have it rejected. And if the author is a best-seller, the publisher may come down on the side of the author. When Words into Type says, “See to it,” that presumes some authority that an editor may, in reality, lack. Nonetheless, it’s important to try—for the sake of the readers, the author, and the publisher and to do your best work.

A time to clean up quotations

“You never alter a direct quote: that’s the strict editing rule,” wrote Ed Latham on his Ten Minutes Past Deadline blog on May 24, 2016. “Reported speech can be tweaked, but if it’s inside quotation marks, you don’t touch it.” That’s what I was taught, and I have always made it a point to follow that rule.

However, Latham, a sub-editor (British for “copy-editor”), has recognized a situation that may call for cleaning up quotations: when speakers have trouble communicating in English because it is not their native tongue. Latham doesn’t agree with “forcing quotes into standard English.” Sometimes speakers “may have made a conscious choice about using non-standard English; sometimes they may be talking in their natural voice. But, in many cases, they may not speak the language well enough to distinguish one register of English from another, and what they end up saying may be far from what they intended to convey.…”

“The risk of being seen to patronise interviewees by cleaning up their quotes is at least partly balanced by the risk of being seen to have ridiculed them by leaving them untouched.”

Latham gives several examples and discusses the nuances. His post “Ya Gotta Be Championship” is well worth reading in its entirety.

On June 7, Latham followed up with another column, asking, “When a player gives you this as a quote:

For the last year and this year, I not really do much for this team. The fans be angry. They be disappointed.

“What’s the correct way to proceed?

  1. Run the quote verbatim …
  2. “Clean up” the quote? …
  3. Take some the words out of direct speech? …</li
  4. Just not run the story at all?…

“After two weeks of thinking about it, I’m still not sure what I would do.”