The editor’s eye

Editors read differently from readers and writers. We’re scanning for tone and consistency, for factual accuracy, for fully realized character arcs. But we also read differently from each other.

Some editors are excellent at spotting spelling mistakes and clunky sentences, but read right over “and and” or other repeated words. Or they’re not well versed in older phrases and don’t know it’s “with bated breath,” not “baited.” (Seen it happen.) Or they don’t remember which prefixes are hyphenated and which ones aren’t, and need to perpetually check the dictionary and/or stylebook to be sure. (OK, that one’s me.)

We all have particular misuses and grammatical sins and problems, from big-picture issues to the smallest commas, that we’re best able to spot and fix. And because we all see different things, we can complement each other. This is why having multiple editors on an article or manuscript is the best-case scenario. Every new set of eyes is another chance to make the writing the best it can possibly be, whether that means a developmental editor plus a copy editor, a copy editor plus a proofreader, or multiple copy editors. We tend to work alone, but we do work best as part of a team.

******

I’m sure you’ve heard about the newsroom shooting in Maryland. I worked in newsrooms for 20 years; journalists are my colleagues. While at work, I used to morbidly wonder what I would do and where I would hide if a shooter burst in, and I’m horrified that this secret fear has become reality for the victims and their families.

Please support local journalists. We need them, more than ever. #buyanewspaper

Kidlit wisdom

So it’s been a horrible couple of weeks to cap off a horrible year. There are plenty of sites to check out if you want to help those in need this summer:

http://kidlitsaysnokidsincages.com/

https://www.unidosporpuertorico.com/en/

http://www.feedingamerica.org/

And since it’s technically already hurricane season, let’s preemptively add:

redcross.org

hands.org

americares.org

 

Just to start.

The thing I keep thinking of, at a moment when caring about other people seems to be seen as some sort of liability, is my favorite passage from “A Wrinkle in Time.”

“But that’s exactly what we have on Camazotz. Complete equality. Everybody exactly alike.” 

For a moment her brain reeled with confusion. Then came a moment of blazing truth. “No!” she cried triumphantly. “Like and equal are not the same thing at all!”

When I first read that, years ago, it struck me as a true thing, one of the truest things in the book. It’s still true. Like and equal are not the same thing. We don’t have to be alike. But we are still equal. And we, all of us, should be treated that way and should treat others that way.

Enjoy the sunshine, and be safe.

 

On being a generalist

I’ve attended the occasional business networking event where other attendees have taken it upon themselves to critique my business model. “You’re too all over the place,” they say. “You should specialize in something.”

Those other attendees, of course, weren’t writers.

As a journalist and assigning editor, I’ve had to become knowledgeable about a lot of different topics pretty quickly. This means I have 1. ferocious focus, 2. strong research skills, and 3. a constant sense of curiosity about practically everything.

Just in the past few years, I’ve written about real estate and home design, agriculture, health care, hearing issues, wine production, art, computer theft, and the Caldecott/Newbery awards. (And that’s just the day job/nonfiction side of my work.) I like the variety because I like learning new things and hearing such a wide variety of stories, because that knowledge will make my fiction writing and editing even richer.

There absolutely are writers and editors who specialize in a particular industry or a specific topic, and that’s fine. I may eventually decide to go that route. But being a generalist is also a valid choice and can lead you down any manner of interesting pathways.

And those networking events? I haven’t attended any lately. I’ve been a little busy.

Write/edit/revise/repeat

First of all, May the Fourth be with you!

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Yes, my droid wears a top hat. He is fancy.

Second, it’s been a busy month.

I wanted to revise my MG novel-in-progress so that I could submit the revised version for a critique at the upcoming NJSCBWI conference. My beta readers had given me great feedback, I’d done some more research, and I knew a whole lot of things I needed to add. Meantime, I also had my usual daily and weekly deadlines for the various editing and writing projects that make up my day job. So I worked on those projects during the day, then revised the novel at night. All month.

This was a fairly doable thing. It was a matter of mindset, and minding the time. I’d spend mornings on one article or editing gig, break for lunch, switch gears to another project, then switch gears again at night and work on the novel. Working on one thing continuously for all that time might have gotten exasperating, but flipping to different projects kept me sharp.

I don’t think multitasking actually exists, at least the way people think of when they use the term. But I think you can finish anything if you work on it an hour (or two) at a time.

I made all my deadlines, including the submission date for SCBWI, and then I spent a day remembering what TV looks like.

And then I flipped back to the first draft of another novel-in-progress. But now I get to take my time a little more.

Invasive punctuation

I have nothing against semicolons. Or em dashes. Or parentheses or exclamation points or colons. And yet when editing, I remove them. I boot them right out of the story.

Not all of them, of course. But the thing is, it’s easy to overuse punctuation marks. Semicolons and em dashes stand out precisely because they aren’t meant to show up in every sentence. Too many of them at once and they clutter up the page, distracting the reader. (And parentheticals are supposed to convey information that’s additional to the main point that the writer is trying to convey, so it’s awkward to introduce something in parentheses and then use it in the main body of the text as though it were there all along. Yes, I’m being meta.)

Any punctuation that gets overused begins to have the same effect as someone typing in all-caps all the time; it hurts the reader’s eyes and they stop reading. For a particular punctuation mark to have an effect, it needs to be used sparingly.

So think of it as weeding a garden. Leave the good marks in place and yank out the unnecessary, incorrect, or annoying ones. The result is cleaner, more graceful, and easier to read. Your reader will thank you.

Let them read comics

A family member was waiting out the storm with us last week (two snow days, ugh) and noticed how voraciously the kids were reading comics. Before he left, the family member said to them, “Make sure you read books sometimes and not just comics.”

I said, “They can read what they want at home. Also, their grades are good and they both score well on standardized tests, so I’m not too worried.”

He conceded, “I used to read comics when I was their age.”

“I read comics now,” I said. Which ended the conversation.

Listen, I’m all in favor of book-nerdery. But I don’t like snobbery. Reading comics and graphic novels is still reading. It absolutely counts. And the kids and I have read so many good comics over the past couple of years—smart writing, beautiful illustrations, full of heart—that I can’t see why anyone would say that reading them is somehow less valuable than reading a text-only book. (Last graphic novel to make me tear up: “Ghosts” by Raina Telgemeier. Last comics to make me laugh out loud: “Ms. Marvel” and “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.” On repeated occasions.)

In fact, I might argue that teaching kids to appreciate good artwork is just as important as teaching them to appreciate good writing, and conveniently, picture books and comics have both.

When I was a kid, I read whatever I wanted, mostly because it would have been impossible for my parents to stop me. Shakespeare. World mythology. My dad’s science fiction and fantasy novels. And yes, comics. None of it hurt me. In fact, given I was a gifted student, on the honor roll, and graduated college on the Dean’s List, I’d say all of it helped me. (True story: I once used an issue of “Sandman” for a paper in my Greek mythology class. So helpful, that Neil Gaiman.)

So my kids can read what they want, too. I think it’s all to the good.

Bringing the news offline

I’d share some of the articles I’ve been writing lately, but I can’t.

Or more precisely, won’t.

Here’s the deal. One of my regular gigs is writing and editing (and setting up photos and working with reporters and helping keep things moving) at this local newspaper. You’ll note there are no articles posted on the website. There never are. The paper is print-only. And I’m glad.

Back in the ’90s, when newspapers decided they needed websites, the orders came down to put all articles on the website. For free. And I thought, “But why would anyone buy the paper if they can read the whole thing for free online?” Alas, I was a lowly copy editor and who cared what I thought.

So we put everything online. For free. Even though newspaper circulation had already been slipping downward for a while, and Generations X (that’s me), Y, Z, Z-plus and whatever else they’re going with these days didn’t have the daily newspaper habit their parents and grandparents did. Even though Craigslist and eBay came along to corner the market on classifieds. Even though advertising started to slip and the cost of newsprint went up. (This article in The Atlantic is a good summation.)

So newspapers lost money, and fired staffers to save money, and lost more money, and got thinner and thinner, with less and less news in them.

The past couple years have been good for the bigger papers, bringing a surge in digital subscriptions. But as the Pew Research Center points out, the industry overall is still suffering.

Now, I’m a book-nerd. Most of my goals for the future involve writing books and working with authors on their books. But I also love newspapers, and have ever since I joined (and later ran) my college newspaper. Newspapers, with a few exceptions, are still the best place to find good journalism. But I’ve been watching colleagues lose their jobs for some time now, and I’ve grown increasingly worried that good journalism is going to disappear with them.

So I was delighted when a colleague of mine announced he was launching his own local paper and looking for freelancers.

Every time I interview someone for an article, about the town food pantry’s plans for outreach or the changes to this year’s arts festival or the expansion of the Middlesex Greenway, they tell me how great the paper is and how glad they are to have a local paper. At the end of one recent interview—which happened to be at a church—the monsignor even blessed me, which was a first. I will definitely take my blessings where I can get them.

And none of these articles is online, because my colleague wants people to buy the paper. Not read it for free.

And frankly, I do too. I want this paper to keep going, because I think this level of local news is what’s missing from most papers now—they don’t have the staff, they don’t have the money, they don’t have the time, etc. I think this is how newspapers survive and thrive: By staying local, and by consistently charging for content. Because I don’t work for free, and neither should anyone else who writes, edits, takes photos, or does graphic design for a living.

So if you want to see what I’ve been working on lately, I’m afraid you’ll have to buy the paper. But trust me: It’s worth it.