I just discovered Geoff Hart’s archive of articles and essays. I’m glad his material is available to read even though it is mostly 10 to 20 years old: although some of the material, particularly concerning computers, is out of date, the bulk of it is still valuable. A lot of the pieces are about technical writing and editing. The essays are thoughtful and cover a wide range of topics, such as “Repairing Bad Author–Editor Relationships,” “Politeness in Editing,” “Part of the Problem?” and “Creating ‘Living’ Policies and Procedures,” and he has humorous pieces too, such as “Son of ‘A Programming Primer’: How to Speak Geek.” I pretty much devoured his archive in a few days, and I think you’ll find it worthwhile too.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
Every writer needs an editor—so what do you do if you don’t have an editor? Sometimes you do need to hire one. But there are also times when you need to edit your own work. I discuss this in “Editing Your Own Writing,” my guest post on Radu Balas’s Publishing Addict blog (July 21, 2016).