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Author, prompt 2


Elang 350

Marvin Gardner


Confessions of an Anarchical Editor Commented [ES1]: This is a great title!

Editing is not an obvious career choice for someone with a conformity problem. It is

rather amazing that I, a bit of a linguistic anarchist, am attempting to be an editor at all. But here

I am, so I might as well make the best of it. I do have two important qualities that could make me Commented [ES2]: You do want to be an editor, right?
This sentence makes it sound like you’ve no choice in the
a good editor—or could prove my editorial downfall. These qualities, passion and

meticulousness, are simultaneously my greatest weaknesses and greatest strengths as an


Let’s readdress the conformity problem cited in the opening. I pity the numerous teachers

who have explained the best practice for nonsexist language in my presence. In these moments, I

have seldom been able to restrain myself from passionately defending the singular they or even

the generic he—anything to avoid tortured prose and needless dancing about. I am a bit

rebellious and am very loath to follow any guideline that I do not see a clear reason for. In my Commented [ES3]: “loath” is a more common spelling
than “loth”
editing experience, I have had to learn a lesson summed up nicely by Carol Saller: “Editors need

to be conservative. It’s not good for business to be on the cutting edge of grammar” (53). I have

had to learn when to swallow my passion about guidelines I do not agree with and to just follow

them. For example, when I edit documents, I generally do jump through the hoops of proper

nonsexist language. In addition, when I edited for The David M. Kennedy Center for Commented [ES4]: This transition feels a little forced. Is it
possible to rephrase it so that the sentence relies more on
the content instead of on metadiscourse when
International Studies, my supervisor and I would often discuss the best way to edit on specific
transitioning? Was the use of singular they one of the issues
you discussed with your supervisor? Or perhaps the
issues. In the end, though, it was her opinion that really mattered, especially when we didn’t sentence could start with you also having to acquiesce to
guidelines in this other situation?
Author, prompt 2

agree. She was my superior, after all, and, though she had never been formally trained as an

editor, she had heaps more experience than I did (I began that job before I had taken any classes

for the editing minor).

In a usage class I took, my teacher often said, “We editors are the ones who slow Commented [ES5]: How much time was it between
starting the editing job and taking this usage class? Perhaps
that time reference could be used to strengthen this
linguistic change.” She would usually say this in reference to a usage that was on its way out and

that many of us would be quite happy to see die, such as the use of whom or the injunction

against the aforementioned singular they. “Do we have to resign ourselves to slowing linguistic

change?” I would ask her. As I have progressed further in the editing minor, I have learned that

the answer is “Yyes, but not always.” I have learned this partly through statements of Carol

Saller such as “Yyour ultimate boss is the reader” (5). Ah. There we are. It is not about whether I

ought to follow a style guide or throw it out the proverbial window. It is about making the text

shine, and shine for its specific audience. Thus, my potentially dangerous rebellious spirit has a

flipside that could actually make me a good editor.

The flipside to my rebellion is passion. I am passionate about good, clear, honest prose,

and I am willing to make the rules serve the text. If I didn’t care about language, I might simply

follow the rules sedately. That would be much easier than questioning them. The guidelines I

dislike tend to be the ones that I think make prose worse when followed. Let me beat the dead

singular they horse once more for an example. If I were to let my rebellion go unrestrained, I Commented [ES6]: This modified idiom seems a bit
wordy and chewy. It might be best to leave out the
would always allow for a singular they. This would harm the credibility of authors and texts

whose readers do care about formal usage and traditional grammar. However, if I instead

remember to use my passion for creating a good text for the reader, I will recognize both when I

ought to conform to more traditional grammar (for the reader’s sake and the author’s) and when

it is appropriate to be more progressive. For example, he or she is likely to look stuffy and out of
Author, prompt 2

place in Seventeen magazine. Knowing that I serve the reader, not a style guide or myself, helps Commented [ES7]: What if this were put up with the
other example? That would keep the examples together and
not break up the following conclusive thoughts.
me rein in my rebellion and make wise editorial decisions.

I learned something else about myself as an editor while I worked at The Kennedy

Center:. I am naturally meticulous. This may, unlike the rebellion mentioned previously, seem

like an excellent quality for an editor to have, but it actually has just as much or more destructive

potential than as rebelliousness in a practical setting. When I worked at The Kennedy Center, I Commented [ES8]: This phrase wasn’t quite balanced
since it was saying “just as much . . . than,” but rewriting it
“just as much destructive potential as or more than
had not yet clearly learned the difference between copyediting and substantive editing, nor was I
rebelliousness” seemed too awkward.

familiar with the term “light copyedit.” In other words, I was overzealous. This indiscriminate

thoroughness often led me to waste time on less important projects and occasionally led me to

slash, burn, and otherwise wreak havoc on a text. In these situations, I would have to be

retroactively reined in by my patient but frustrated supervisor. Saller tells the story of a Commented [ES9]: Saller is mentioned a few times
already, but this still feels like a slight transition jump to me.
beginning editor who faithfully added a comma between every author and date in in-text source Commented [ES10R9]: Also, this paragraph gets pretty
long—might this be a good place to split it up? The
citations, blissfully ignorant that The Chicago Manual of Style recommends no comma (25). I transition would have to be stronger for a paragraph break,
but I think it could work.

almost blushed as I read that story: I had committed almost exactly the same error myself,

faithfully introducing an erroneous comma into every entry of the lengthy bibliography of an

academic paper. After recounting this story, Saller goes on to say, “When I talk about

carefulness, I am also talking about the application of knowledge. . . . You can be the most

meticulous person in the world as you start reading, but if you are ignorant of the issues, you will

happily read past problems that should set off alarms” (25–26). She points out that

meticulousness without knowledge is useless. I would add that it is more than useless: it is

harmful, as the erroneous comma examples illustrate. I have learned my lesson in both the “do Commented [ES11]: This thought wasn’t developed as
much as the “do no harm” one so this mention feels a little
no harm” (Saller 7) and the time management departments. I have learned not to follow my sudden. What if the sentence reintroduced the time-
management thought? “I have learned my lesson in the ‘do
no harm’ department but also in time management,” or
instincts off a cliff; I have learned that before I make major changes to a text, I must know something along those lines? Or perhaps integrate time
management into the example, so that thought gets
developed along with “do no harm”?
Author, prompt 2

exactly why. I have also learned that sometimes a supposed editorial issue is simply not worth

the time it would take to correct.

There is an obvious good side to my meticulousness. Editors, above almost all else, must

have a careful eye that catches what a casual reader’s eye would not. I have become proficient

with much of Chicago’s content, and though I still have a ways to go, my checking of comma

placement and compound modifiers has become almost automatic. Once I have learned a rule, I

remember it well and take pleasure in applying it correctly. This inexplicable satisfaction in

something as seemingly dreary as comma and hyphen checking makes me confident that I will

be able to enjoy editing professionally.

A lot more than I have covered here is required to be a good editor: tact, firmness,

compassion, fact-checking skills and general knowledge, mastery of multiple style manuals,

continuing study, experience, etc. I have analyzed just two qualities that could either make or

break me as an editor. I tend to balk at rules, but my reason for balking is often my passion for

beautiful or at least sensible prose. I am careful and detail-oriented, but in the past this has led

me to overcorrect and to get bogged down in trivial changes. I have a bad quality that could

make me a good editor if used well and a good quality that could make me a bad editor if used

excessively. Though the pen may be mightier than the sword, I still keep two two-edged swords

at my editorial disposal. Commented [ES12]: This modified idiom almost works

but not quite—I think it’s because the first half usually
means words are more influential than actions, but the
overall sentence structure gives the impression that you are
contradicting this notion. The latter half doesn’t fulfill these
implications, so it feels a little off.
Author, prompt 2

Source Cited

Saller, Carol Fisher. The Subversive Copy Editor. 2nd ed., The University of Chicago Press,


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