Wednesday, October 8, 2008


There are several reasons I dropped my editing minor in my last year and chose to pursue a career in "something else." That something else turned out to be writing. I like writing. Unfortunately, every writer is also an editor in some sense. Today, my editing task has violently reminded me of all of the reasons I abandoned editing as a possible life path.

I'm generally patient with errors in grammar and punctuation. Everyone makes them, and that's why the world needs editors. Royal Skousen—genius, BYU professor, and all-around curmudgeon—taught me the concept of leakage. Essentially, leakage is the errors that a person makes even though they are fully aware of—and prepared to use—the principles that govern a grammatical decision. Leakage is inevitable and must be forgiven.

I believe, however, that there is a difference between leakage and total abandonment of thought during the writing process. A missing comma or dangling modifier here and there can count as leakage, but random capitalization, inconsistent use of single and double quotation marks, inappropriate italics, and what can only be called abuse of the thesaurus—these things witness a disturbing disrespect for the English language.

When a piece of writing displays such patent hatred for the reading public (and for the poor soul underpaid to edit it), I find it difficult to apply forgiveness the same way. For this reason, editing bad writing is a frustrating project for me. I am continually amazed by the inability of people who speak excellent English to produce a coherent sentence on paper. Somewhere is a tall wall between spoken English and written English. Some step over it without difficulty, while others spend lifetimes failing to scale it.

I'll accept that spoken and written English are vastly different. I'll even accept that many of the principles of the language that, when broken, drive me crazy are arbitrary historical and societal assignments that have little impact on meaning. However, when as an editor I'm asked to fix these things, I can't help but resent the fact that a little effort on the part of the document's author would save me significant time.

These unthinking authors simply vomit their thoughts onto paper and imagine that a wave of my magical editing wand will turn it into cake. Next time someone says their document needs my "magic touch," I'm just going to walk away.


Lisa said...

I love it.

As one who semi-prides myself on my editing abilities, I often looked over friends' papers. And I feel your pain. Seriously. I once spent 3 hours on a friend's 1-page paper, constantly saying, "What the heck was that supposed to MEAN?" He was shocked when I refused the next time.

(And, I'm simultaneously really nervous about my writing style now :) )

Kimberly said...

It must have been a doc written by DH.