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Editions of Self

1. Introduction:

“Lovingly Restored Ranch.” These three words, followed by a rambling six-

digit number with far too many “nines” in it, rest for a moment on my eyes as I

drive by a large, electronic screen stationed over a local realtor’s office. The

message is clear—there is a one-story, older house for sale, which has been

renovated with an eye to preservation and comfort. The fact that this sentence

fragment is all one rambling noun phrase bothers me. The idea that it might be the

seed that blooms into a small family’s dream come true, truly jolts me. Before

delving into the world of the copy editor, I would have never given this a second

thought. After having immersed myself (under the competent direction of Amy

Einsohn and Dr. M. Carlson-Bradley) in this world of textual analysis, I find

myself more prone to recognizing the flood of nonconventional language usage

swirling around me. Society is trying to say more with less.

There is a place for many—if not all—types of communication; even the slang

and abrupt written styles found in text messaging and e-mail content fulfill the

basic need to transfer information between persons. As these personal

communication practices spill over into the mainstream, society will need to adopt

a habit of self-correction, or risk appearing far differently than intended. Though


“more with less” is desired, the opposite is what appears to be true: The less a

message contains in content accuracy, the more it says about the author. Taking the

“more with less” reasoning as it applies to a writing career, I would counterclaim:

the less editing which is needed at the next desk, the more chance a submission has

of being published.

2. The Editor

As a student of the writing craft, I am banking that the preceding “self editing”

thesis will still be true upon graduation. Broadcasting the best possible impression

through writing is of utmost importance, especially when the words used to convey

this impression are intended to pass through an editor and into the world at large;

even more so, if income is expected as a result of the writing. Every author

broadcasts an image, a set of values and even a statement about their formal

education and training whenever they submit a document. Here, amidst a host of

levers, knobs and strings designed to actually forward good, clean material into the

literary marketplace, is the domain of the editor.

It is ironic that the impressions left after reading a document—be they excellent

or exasperating—are often attributed to the author. Whenever I stumble across a

missed correction, or sentence fragment that actually misleads (open almost any

do-it-yourself assembly manual), I wonder what the author was thinking. The truth

is, the arrangement of those particular words passed through certain levels of
scrutiny and a group of like-minded people all agreed that the whole document

carried the message of intent effectively enough to publish it. The final product of

editing—whether it is a street sign or The Declaration of Independence—

represents cohesion between disparate, but mutually vested parties and is intended

to serve the reader; it is a wonder that the author is even listed at all. By final draft,

the document, brochure, or manual is equal to the effort of far more than the sum

of one author’s ideas.

I accept these terms, and with them the responsibility to forward the good,

thoughtful word when it is in my power to do so. This requires a considerate and

courteous attitude toward the next person who will read my work. So, what can the

writer do to ease the burden of the editor? First of all, the images that come to my

mind may need to be recast (although, stereotyping the editor can be fun): I often

picture a rough, ribald and cunning editor who strikes with a saber at all

submissions with equal aversion and then observes a shred of really good writing

falling through the air…momentarily regretting—but, never recanting. Gary

Provost, author of 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing, describes “…a legion of

mean-spirited [editors] scanning my every word with a magnifying glass…poised

to leap on the first sign of contradiction.” Then upon their finding such an error, he

goes on to describe the form letter they will send him—which cites the initial, and

then the contradictory phrase (with page numbers)—which ends with the blunt,
rhetorical question, “‘Are you a moron?’”(157). Because the diversity of “editorial

character” is at least as broad as that of writers, presumptions are of little value;

what counts is opening and maintaining a cordial, positive relationship with

everyone who helps get writing done.

During my recent study of editing, I have been thrilled to see a path laid out

before me that is filled with the guideposts and milestones naturally convenient to

a career in professional writing. In a careful study by a literary agent-editor team,

Thinking Like Your Editor, the combined authors’ voice enumerates a process

through publishing that aspiring writers need to understand. Rabiner and Fortunato

explain the importance of the acquisition editor and how they review and decide

upon a proposal. In fact, they remark that it is upon the proposal more that the

manuscript that the editor will base their decision. Their thesis, “[We] believe that

a book that knows why it is being written, for whom, and most importantly what it

wants to say, is a book well on its way to successful publication,” should convince

any writer of the importance of a well thought out and delivered writing proposal

(32). They pursue this line to conclude the absolute necessity of having a literary

agent on the side of the writer. These concepts are new to me and I realize the

importance of stating outright my writing career intentions, in order to study

precisely how the men and women who have gone before me, have succeeded in

my chosen field. In the following section, I attempt to outline my own literary


aspirations as well as the serious guidance and direction that I have culled from the

writings of editors, and recent coursework about the field of editing.

3. The Literary Journalist

In a collection entitled Literary Journalism in the Twentieth Century, I found a

defining guidepost detailed in an essay by Thomas B. Connery. The piece is

written about the genesis of a new writing style around the turn of the twentieth

century. He writes of one Stephen Crane, a New York journalist fed up with what

he considered the abstract collections of facts that were being routinely mislabeled

as a news stories. Crane tried writing some background into crime coverage and

even added some local color to small excerpts on daily mishaps. Inadvertently, he

re-defined creative writing. His critics were pressed to acknowledge a literary form

between journalism and fiction. What they termed “poet reporter,” grew into “a

new kind of daily journalism, personal literary and immediate” (10). As the style

began to take root, the phrase “descriptive narrative” came into use whenever an

article helped readers to see the events rather than merely read them. Connery

summarizes, “Today this is called saturation or immersion reporting, and is a

central technique of many literary journalists [emphasis in the original]” (16).

These data present a two-fold finding: first, even though they were very critical

—and Crane acted alone—editors helped to define the literary journalism genre.
Second, this is the closest description I have found of the style and type of

professional writing that I intend to pursue. The story shows how important the

involvement, if not advocacy, of editors is in the success of writers. Carol Fischer

Saller is an example of an editor who allows herself to meld with the writers she

edits. She is the first to admit that editors make mistakes, and that mutual

understanding as well as tact and courtesy always result in a healthier relationship

between editors and writers. She speaks of learning to “listen for the writers’

voice,” hinting that she finds ways to identify a writer’s style and desired voice and

trying to remain true to it throughout her necessary corrections (10). I accept that

criticism can sustain writers, as well as correct them, but the common goal of

proliferating well-written publications does not stand between the author and editor

—as Saller shows—it fuses them together.

4. What We Both Know

More generally, the course of my recent studies in the editing trade has

introduced me to important over-arching principles of good writing. When directed

to edit another’s writing, I often read a passage that captures the author’s intent

perfectly, while not burdening the reader with a complicated metaphor or an obtuse

simile. According to Sharpe and Gunther, co-authors of Editing Fact and Fiction,

this falls into one of three categories: “Showing, not telling”; three simple words
that transform an audience from drooling simpletons into peers, equals, and

through-readers (144). “Removing scaffolding and building bridges”; perfect

metaphors in themselves, reminding the writer to remove any obvious constructs

they have used to create the remarkable sculpture they now wish to show—and

have readers appreciate for its technical precision and emphatic presence—and

bridge building to avoid jarring topic changes, like, “…when the reader finds

himself saying ‘something’s missing here’…supplying the missing word, sentence,

or transitional paragraph” (145). Finally, “Being concrete”; a useful adage that

steers the writer away from generalizations, urging them instead to strive to “evoke

a concrete image” (147). These editorial suggestions, made by editors, have

provided me with solid connections between the (I once thought…) lowly,

misunderstood writer, and the actually penetrable publishing house.

The subjects of my previous writings have often been in areas which I have

expertise—or at least experience—and I know through peer review and criticism

that a voice which knows its subject speaks above the words themselves. I am

convinced that the open-minded consideration of an alternate view is conducive to

an expanding learning experience for the reader. In a nutshell, “…[effective]

argument communicates more than it says explicitly. It simulates readers to think

in new ways not only about the about the authors topic, but about other aspects of
their lives as well” (Rabiner and Fortunato 142). Writing persuasively and with

authentic, first-hand knowledge is a sure combination for success.

Refined and successful writing strategies are the end result of many series’ of

good decisions. The value of possessing and maintaining a positive attitude is

immeasurable. This mindset truly comes through in everything from diction, to

posture and even health and tenacity. There is no substitute for a writer’s personal

conviction that they can succeed. An author without such a frame of reference may

be prone to slipping into technique called “hedging”. According to Blake and Bly,

“a hedge is a word or phrase that actually serves as a qualifier, indicating that an

author is unsure of the accuracy of the statement that follows and is unwilling to

present it as the absolute truth [emphasis added]” (“Business Writing” 70).

Following this definition the authors list some of the most wishy-washy terms and

avoidance techniques ever contrived. They mention everything from ‘I guess…” to

“maybe”, “might” and the political avoidance rhetoric “as I recall” (“Business

Writing” 70). I strive to keep my writing free of this peculiar brand of deception. I

may “write” wrongs, but I surely won’t “maybe or might” a right.

By necessity, a career in professional writing will include business writing.

From query letters to personal statements and synposii, a contracted writer will

need to develop and maintain a presence within the context of the business side of

writing. Contemporary lectures and fitting discussion I have observed in the study
of editing have helped me consider the professional manner essential to interacting

with editors and publishing contacts throughout the future. By working as a student

with others on their presented pieces and articles, I have exposed myself to

numerous examples of courteous, direct speech and helpful team-oriented

criticism. There is no real place for a derogatory voice on a team focused to copy,

proof and publish a document or manuscript.

I was not surprised to read of the importance of self-editing as critical to

optimizing the success of a proposal. Blake and Bly advise using plain, simple

language and remaining concise (“Business Writing” 57). This struck a familiar

chord from both my studies in the field of editing and many other readings I have

done. They recommend “… [edit] carefully…err on the side of being too

informal…” artfully concluding, “no one has ever complained that a simply written

letter or report was too easy to read (“Business Writing” 59). For my own

development I found a wealth of excellent advice from these seasoned editors. As

the quasi-formal voice in my own writing has been shown to lose my audience, I

need to pay particular notice to this advice on diction: “…writers sometimes prefer

big, important-sounding words to shorter, plainer words…sentences get long and

words balloon in size, the mind of even the most patient and intelligent reader

begins to wander” (“Technical Writing” 77). I realize using obscure forms and

oversized words serves the active reader many opportunities to slide down a
tangent, from which they may never return. Though expression through a rich and

competent vocabulary is acceptable, I appreciate their counsel to use short, simple

diction, and to save the boundless waves of grandiloquence for very occasional

emphasis.

Among the plentiful offerings on writing, editing and even niche vocations like

fact-checking and proofreading there abides one overriding theme: Stay Positive.

The writer, perhaps more than in any other profession, is sensitive to mood.

Writing is influenced by what emotions are surfacing, have surfaced or are

scheduled to rise, shortly—and these show in the contour and tone of the writing.

In Time to Write, Kelly Stone identifies laboriously what every writer knows

intuitively. She surmises that writing is what [writers] wish to do most, and often

prioritize the least (6). This tendency to deny pleasure has kept many fine novels

on the dusty back chambers of peoples’ minds—and off the bookshelves. A nature

such as this cannot be simply ferreted out of written work, by even the most

attentive copyeditor.

5. Conclusion

I am now surrounded by a whole new section in my personal library, the titles

stand behind me like winning coaches to a football team. Editors who have gone to

profound lengths to inspire, coerce, beat and drag good writing out of their writers
have said their piece. They have written reams, “blogged” their experiences and

helped to publish style-guides and writers-guides that can be said to be infallible—

because they themselves sit behind the desks at which the buck must stop. I have

heard their plea, and lean with eagerness into the remainder of this learning

process; expecting to inspire outbursts of hearty laughter along with tufts of self-

pruned hair in equal measure, as I am led to bend, stiffen and occasionally crack

the shell of the amateur writer which currently has me bound.

Works Cited

Blake, Gary, and Robert W. Bly. The Elements of Business Writing: A Guide to
Writing Clear, Concise Letters, Memos, Reports, Proposals, and Other
Business Documents. 1st ed. New York: Longman, 1992. Print.

Blake, Gary, and Robert W. Bly. The Elements of Technical Writing: The
Essential Guide to Writing Clear, Concise Proposals, Reports, Manuals,
Letters, Memos, and Other Documents in Every Technical Field. New York:
MacMillan, 1993. Print.

Einsohn, Amy. The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and
Corporate Communications. 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press,
2006. Print.

Provost, Gary. 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing. New York: Mentor, 1985.
Print.

Rabiner, Susan, and Alfred Fortunato. Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write
Great Serious Nonfiction--and Get It Published. New York: Norton, 2002.
Print.

Saller, Carol F. The Subversive Copy Editor. Chicago: University of Chicago


Press, 2009. Print.
Sharp, Leslie T., and Irene Gunther. Editing Fact and Fiction: A Concise Guide to
Book Editing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Print.

Sims, Norman, ed. Literary Journalism in the Twentieth Century. Evanston:


Northwest University Press, 2008. Print.

Stone, Kelly L. Time to Write. Avon: Adams Media, 2008. Print.