Ansley Asher

writing thoughts

Copyediting and You: Who Really Wins?

I like Seth Godin’s blog because his advice is often relevant to so much more than marketing. In a post lovingly titled, “Sucking all the juice out,” he writes:

Just got some work back from a new copyeditor hired by my publisher. She did a flawless job. She also wrecked my work. Totally wrecked it.

By sanding off every edge, removing every idiom, making each and every fact literally correct, she made it boring and dry and mechanical.

As fiction writers, we are supposed to know the rules, and also when to break them. Editing (for ourselves and others) is an art, too. When we edit our own (or other people’s work), the desire may be to make the copy “clean,” but the goal should be to “first, do no harm.” (Since the phrase “first, do no harm” was never actually in the Hippocratic Oath, I vote we writers and editors take it. At least it will finally belong to something.)

I used to dread going to those little writer’s critique sessions because I expected there would be at least one person who did not get this. That never actually happened, however. In fact, most of us were real newbies who wouldn’t know an elliptical phrase if it tripped us and stole our donuts. I am not sure where I am going with this, but you read this far so I suppose I should be polite and wrap this up. I think the real problem is that when you pay someone to do something they went to school for years to improve, they try really hard to do it well, especially if they like their job and want to keep it. Maybe the weirdest thing about this is that I can’t imagine a human actually changing, “I got a baker’s dozen of donuts and a cup of Joe then hit the streets,” to “I bought exactly 13 donuts and a coffee and left through the door because the window would be silly.” And, actually, that’s an elliptical phrase there, so it would have been changed to, “because leaving through the window would be silly,” since the copyeditor in question apparently copyedited all that human stuff out. Does that mean his copyeditor’s office is hiring grammar robots instead of people? Are they admitting robots into colleges now? And most importantly, I wish I had some donuts to go with this coffee, but I think that elliptical phrase took them. And that’s not a question. Didn’t it seem like I was going to end with another question? Maybe I should. Have. Crap.


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