Editing & Grammar

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Image: Amazon.com

I worked as an editor once. This was back when a career in publishing still felt possible. First I was assistant, then coordinator at successive academic houses directly connected to my alma matter. After a couple of years of that I made the jump to freelance copy-editing.

Freelancing was interesting and challenging.

I had this client –  he was determined to strike it rich, and if regular work and gambling didn’t get him there then goshdarnit he was going to be a bestselling author and would I edit his book?

I was skeptical, but interested. Did he know I only copy-edited? Oh yes, yes of course; he knew all the things. Well!

Thankfully by this point I was a bit savvy and had him sign a contract and pay me a deposit. Thankfully, because he handed me 12 rough pages of bullet points and – despite signing a contract that clearly outlined my scope and purview as a copy-editor –  he stated that he expected me to turn his 12 pages of bullet points into his book. In about a week. And he was outraged! incredulous! when I handed him back his pages with a few nicely typed pages of my own on top with suggestions for next steps.

I remembered this as I was reading Ursula K. LeGuin’s book about craft.  It’s great of course; well written, interesting, solid exercises; just as you’d expect. She writes:

Careless grammar is bad design plus sand in the gears and the wrong size gaskets.

-p. 21. Kindle Edition

Perfect, right? I lived and breathed grammar for so long that I don’t think of it the way I used to and so picked up her book for a refresher and to learn more new things, of course!

I’m not  a stickler though. Oh no. don’t you confuse me for one of those infuriatingly smug grammarians, red-penning it up all over the place.

One of my top 5 favorite things about language is that it’s very nature, the core of it if you will, is it’s fluidity. I love the grace and ease with which it flows.

To me, language is a river, and our usage is all the things in the river: the stones and plants, the rose petals and tossed love-letters, the fishies and dragonflys, but also the McDonalds wrappers, dead birds, detritus and flotsam and jetsam that gets picked up along the way and flows merrily along together to form one whole and imperfect changing thing.

Shirley Jackson

I kept reading the name Shirley Jackson and decided to check out what all the fuss was about. It has been a joy to follow the path of fantasy, mystery and horror that is her work.

Her fiction was so inspiring that I downloaded a couple of her collected articles, essays and lectures. These were so great I bought a couple of biographies. Each path I followed lead to a treasure. Her articles spoke about her struggle to balance life and writing. Her biographies outlined her drive and determination to be published and the obstacles she overcame to reach that goal.

The best advice (amid lots of great advice) for me personally came from the book “Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays and Other Writings” compiled by her children. In it, she states:

“I cannot find any patience for those people who believe that you start writing when you sit down at your own desk and pick up your pen and finish writing when you put down your pen again; a writer is always writing, seeing everything through a thin mist of words…” page 377, Memory and Delusion (Kindle Edition, copyright Random House 2015).

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Image: Wikipedia