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Monday, January 07, 2008

Reader's Digest Is Like Rain in the Desert After a Day Here

I've got to vent.

My job….if it had a neck, I would throttle it. Punch its face, if it had one. Kick its shins. Smack it. And I'm not even a violent person. I'm not. Really.

Somehow I landed the unenviable position of copy editor. I'm surrounded by words all day long, and I love them. I do, honestly. I enjoy the way they sound, the ways they can be fitted together to make a sentence, their precision, and the possibilities. I love struggling to find the right words. There is a right word for everything. There are those who are skilled at finding them. And there are those who are not.

And it's irritating when a writer is one of those who is not. It's also irritating to read books all day long written by people who aren't in love with language. They're writing to make money (not much, usually . . . but there's always the chance that this, THIS could be a surprise best-seller), to prove a point, to gain recognition in their circle of colleagues, to be able to say, "My book is actually about this very subject we're discussing . . ." or even, "I've arrived, yes, this is my thirtieth book . . ."

Editing someone else's work isn't easy. I enjoy it on many levels, but it also makes me apprehensive. Will the author be offended by what I've changed? I wrestle with myself, knowing I could have said that sentence better. I leave the sentences as they are, unless they're totally confusing. Then I try to clear it up with just a few changes. I only change what I must, so the work reflects our house style, which usually follows the Chicago Manual of Style. And I correct to fix grammar errors.

But you get prissy authors. Princesses who can't stand to have their work altered. They feel it, somewhat understandably, like a slap to their face. It stings their pride. They revolt. You should see the wars they wage. If you were sitting in this desk and you were me, you would have probably already asked your evil, mad scientist sister to train her death ray on them.

I joke. But seriously. I'm not saying my writing inspires awe or anything like that. I'm saying there are rules and I can't argue with every author who thinks they know better than the Chicago Manual of Style. They think their book is the only book I'm working on. They think they're God. They think their book exists in a vacuum, that it is THE book to set all standards, that all rules about grammar, common sense, punctuation, spelling, SHOULD FLOW FROM IT.

It's exhausting. I've written SO MANY e-mails, trying to salve their stupid wounds, explain our house style, explain WHY their sentence is unclear (I can't be the first to have read this . . . can I?). I'm not diplomatic by nature. I just want to tell them, "Listen, you sucked right here. This sentence? I had absolutely no idea what the hell you were saying. Fix it, or be embarrassed when it hits shelves. Thanks."

If only.

5 comments:

cassi said...

I hope you weren't referring to anyone specific when you talked (albeit hypothetically) about an "evil, mad scientist sister" with a "death ray."

Aries327 said...

Of course . . . I wasn't.

cassi said...

Good. Because I would hate to have to hurt you.

Aries327 said...

With your death ray?

cassi said...

Yes.