Like many writers, I am also an editor. That might sound funny to people who know me. My inability to spell and my poor reading speed is my personal ball and chain. I firmly believe the person who invented spell-check needs to receive the Congressional Gold Medal for her or his “achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient's field long after the achievement.” It is unfortunate that some have never partaken in this wondrous tool.
I usually tell people that I have dyslexic fingers when they find a misspelling or that I used the wrong version of a word, though I rarely confuse to, two and too. Spaghetti, however, forces me to hurt my brain.
I read Maggie Walter’s “Copy editing resembles the art and method of solving mysteries,” and was excited to know that she looks for the same problems as I do when defining the who, what, where, why and how within each sentence in a column, paper or book. My last major project was from a client in Serbia. He is fluent in four languages and wrote a novel in English. My primary job was to translate his English into, well, English.
I also checked for continuity and did some fact checking. When finished, I knew I did not charge enough. My new charge will be triple of a yet to be determined exorbitant fee, something I learned from Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes in CBS’s “Elementary.”
As a faculty member, student papers written in the shorthand of TXT MSG or that leaned heavily on incomplete, extremely long and/or very confusing sentences cause me great angst. To become a good writer, I would tell students that one must practice good writing, even when TXTG.
In a July 2010 TED Talk, Korean novelist Young-ha Kim said, “A novel, basically, is writing one sentence — then, without violating the scope of the first one, writing the next sentence.” A much violated rule.
Most do not have the pleasure of having an “editor-on-call,” as the citizen opinion writers do at the Missourian. My next book is going through its third outside extensive and expensive edit. Then there are the countless self-edits.
Why is this important to you, my dear, highly articulate and intelligent reader? You should read the responses we get from readers of our essays sent either directly or posted on the site or those sent directly to J. Karl Miller, Rose Nolen and me. Spelling, grammar, context and factual errors abound, and I find myself occasionally asking the respondent to clarify the message.
I tend to blame my still-yet-to-be formally diagnosed dyslexia (or at least my dyslexic fingers) for my own errors, many of which are found two or three days later after I have published my commentary on my blog or the paper has printed. Most of my errors are found by my readers, much like those found by ColumbiaMissourian.com's Show Me the Errors contestants.
If it were not for my unseen and sometimes unnamed editors, my writing could not improve.
Does an opinion essay or a letter to the editor — or a letter to a politician for that matter — need to be letter perfect? Heck no. I am sure F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted to re-edit parts of “The Great Gatsby” after publication. When I do read my own essays after publication, I find myself asking, “Did I really write that? Did the future-editor-extraordinaire at the Missourian really let that one slip by? Oy.”
Read your own work a day after you have written it. I am sure that you will do the same.
I live by a simple rule concerning my writing; once it is out of my hands and to an editor or has been published, I no longer “own” it. I rarely get upset about editorial comments, whether it is about my poor spelling, word choice or comments. In fact I, like most other commentators, welcome such comments — that way we know at least one person is reading our message.
So please keep editing, my friends and my detractors. You make me think, evaluate and become better at what I do — starting the conversation.