Monday, July 01, 2013

I'd rather be a comma than a full stop (and a poll!)

The next fruitcake post is half-written but I haven't found the energy to finish it yet.  It is so freaking hot here.  It's supposed to get up to 96 today, and since it so rarely does that, we don't have air conditioning.  We just have 27 fans going round the clock, and let me tell you, they are not enough.  Excuse me while I go plunge my head into ice water, and then I'll come back and finish.

So, what else is going on around here.

I just finished a six-week online course on copyediting.  It was surprisingly fascinating to me.  I signed up on a whim, thinking it would be a good set of skills to have given the things that I'm interested in, but not ever imagining that I would want to be an editor.  But as I worked my way through the lessons, I realized that it is exactly the kind of stuff I'm interested in.  I've got a manuscript of my mom's to work on (an old one, I'm not nearly experienced enough to tackle her new one), and if you know of anyone else who might need editing done and wouldn't mind having an apprentice editor do the work, e-mail me (the link to my e-mail is on my profile page).

There was one point where I wasn't sure I agreed with the instructor, so I'm taking opinions.  I just figured out how to add a "real" opinion poll.  Let's try this--it's over there in the right margin.  And I have absolutely no way of knowing whose vote is whose, so this is completely anonymous.  Vote with abandon, or let me know what you think in the comments.

Here is the situation:  You've labored over a manuscript for months, poured your heart and soul into it, and it is your baby.  You take your courage in both hands and send it off to an editor for polishing.  The editor finds a sentence that she doesn't understand.  Which would you prefer to see in the margin?
A.  "Unclear"

B.  "I'm not sure what you mean by this sentence.  Can you clarify it, please?"

C.  "I think I understand what this sentence means, but I'm not sure.  If I'm confused, the reader might be, too.  Can we work together to clarify it?"
Make your choice over there in the right margin before you read on.

I've done some editing for people before, and one of the main things I learned in this class is that I have been way too abrupt in communicating with the author.  I assumed that it was better to just bluntly and efficiently state what I thought needed to be changed, because that is what works best for me as a writer (after three years of having my papers graded by academicians, I have had LOTS of recent experience with this).  But after reading this instructor's guidelines for dealing with your clients, I'm starting to see that most people would rather have their editorial feedback more gracefully phrased.

The course instructor says option A is bad (sounds like a teacher correcting a student), B is better, and C is the best (non-confrontational and non-blaming, and accepts part of the responsibility for fixing it).  I guess I can see that, but as a writer, I would definitely prefer A.  Options B and C are wasting my time and hers.  Just tell me what needs work and I'll work on it.  Also, B and C feel slightly condescending to me, like she feels like I need to be handled, or manipulated into agreeing with her.  Option A feels like one professional to another-- this is what needs work.  (note that none of the three options says exactly what is unclear-- and that would be the most helpful of all.)

But her point is that most people prefer more gentle criticism.  In other words, people are different, and what works for me is not necessarily going to work for anybody else.  And I am quite possibly in the minority here.  Hence, the poll.

Maybe this correlates with talking on the phone.  I hate chit chat.  It's one of the main reasons I hate talking on the phone.  You can't just say what you need to say and hang up, you have to talk about the weather and where you're going on vacation, etc etc.  When I used to have to make PTA phone calls, I would pray to get people's answering machines.

Hmmm.  It's occurring to me that I'm kind of bitchy.

I think I will have to work on this.  (that is a backhanded way of apologizing to the people whose work I've edited, in case you couldn't tell.)  Maybe before I edit for anyone, I will have them take this poll.  Also, I had to completely change my blog format so you could see the poll, and it now looks ugly, which is bugging me.  But I can change it back later, right?

Other things I learned:  It is now incorrect to put two spaces after a period.  I knew that was true for online writing (not that I can change, because hello thirty years of typing two spaces after a period), but I didn't know it was true for any other kind of writing.

In the phrase "can't help but" ("I can't help but think you've worked too hard") the but is redundant and should be deleted. ("I can't help thinking you've worked too hard")

Continuous/continual:  continuous means continuing on without interruption (their continuous chatter was driving me crazy), continual means continuing with interruptions (continual rain showers throughout the day, i.e., intermittent).

Farther/further:  farther refers to physical distance (his house is farther away than hers), further refers to psychological or other non-physical meanings (no further work was required, our friendship could go no further).

And that barely even scratches the surface of what we covered.  Since I am a word addict, I loved this class.  There are a couple of other ones in the same vein, I may take more.

What are your favorite words to mix up?  How do you keep them straight?  What are your favorite words to misspell?  (mine are occurrence, embarrass, and reconnaissance)  And don't forget to respond to the poll!


  1. Okay, so I personally like A. I am an introverted pragmatist, which means I like to get to the point already, and you're not going to offend me by telling me the truth.

    However, I've found out the hard way that most people are not like this -- writers especially. So I chose C in the poll (before I read the post!). Editing is, after all, a service industry and service industries require people skills. You shouldn't have to handle adults, but it's been my experience that a good 85% of the time, you do.

    Have I mentioned how envious I am of your continuing education? Because I totally am. Also, please forgive my fragments. :)

    1. Listen, any grammatical/spelling/writing errors you make I will gladly forgive because I'm worse. I knew my spoken Texas-native grammar was less than ideal, but I thought I did pretty well in writing until I took this course.

      Also, I'm glad to know you would also pick option A. Honestly, I was astonished when I read her reasoning. #C sounds condescending and insincere to me, since it's NOT the editor's responsibility to fix the sentence, it's the author's. But you're right-- it's a service industry, and people (including me) can be hypersensitive about their writing, and the point isn't necessarily to be efficient, it's to improve the work. So whatever works. It was really an interesting class, and the instructor was excellent. The website is if you want to check it out--you get a discount if you can register through a local school or community college (which is what I did), but they're not too outrageously expensive even if you just take it on your own.

    2. Also, my kids are 23 and 15 which means I have considerably less childcare responsibility than you do. (less/fewer!! less responsibility, fewer responsibilities, right?) Your day will come, I promise.

  2. Ice packs - the kind they put on - injuries help me combat hot weather.

    1. OK, I will get more information from you about this NEXT WEEK (love being able to say that!) because I have some logistical questions about this. :-)

  3. I get to see you guys!!! I am so excited.

  4. Fun! Part of me does enjoy editing--I'm good at helping people organize their ideas better (at least with non-fiction.) But I think I'd be bad at drumming up business for myself.

    I chose "A" -- it's neutral. But I kind of like the idea of giving your customer a three question poll that gives you a feel for how they like their feedback. Or I suppose one could ask. Or give them a sample. Or you could strike a more personal tone in the general feedback--I think that's what I used to do when grading papers.

    In person "C" might work better; but on paper it does sound condescending.

    I personally just don't like feedback that's too general. A writer friend once read a story for me, and her feedback was "I don't get it." I guess it got back to her that her feedback frustrated me, so she thinks I'm very sensitive; but I was frustrated because it meant nothing!

    1. yes, the marketing part is what worries me, too. A friend of mine who is a graphic designer may team up with me to do covers, layout, etc. and I think she will be better at it than I am--that may help. And "I don't get it" would frustrate me, too, geeze!