Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mean Editor Tells It Like It Is

I do quite a bit of editing. For funsies--it's not my day job. Not to say I don't edit at my day job--let the people you work with figure out that you're a grammar grump and they start passing a lot of stuff your way to proof. (I also had a stint at a stationery company where I proofed hundreds--literally--of peoples' wedding invitations.) Outside of Ye Day Job, I have a few crit partners (shout-out especially to June and Hayley) whose work I've had the privilege of nitpicking, and friends often ask me to lend a hand with cover letters or even tricky emails. Because having a second pair of eyes is a good thing, especially if those eyes are almost pitifully anal about proper use of commas in linking prepositional phrases.

I tend to think I'm really nice, for the most part. I point out what I see are problems, but in a tactful, kind way.

Then I had to plow through a statement a friend had written for a professional portfolio. I was in a huge hurry, I didn't have time to nice it up, plus this friend gets my sense of humor.

Mean Editor came out. Mean Editor smash grammar! Smash stylistically clunky prose! Smash!

Mean Editor had some good lessons that I didn't think should be limited to one word doc full of bright red "Comment" bubbles.

1) "Why did you explain this? A brain-damaged mule deer would get this." Sometimes we writers feel the need to explain our terms a little too much. Yes, if you've created a world with tons of different technology or fantasy animals or are describing a historical setting, sometimes you have to explain what it is you're talking about. Preferably in a subtle, non-pace-slowing way. But if your futuristic laser gun is called the LaserGun5000, you do NOT need to tell us that the LaserGun5000 is, in fact, a laser gun that's replacing the LaserGun4000 and shoots--yes--lasers.

2) "Ditch the Sh!tty Modifiers...ok, hold on--this is going to be an acronym now. DTSM." I love adjectives and adverbs. They're beautiful, colorful, exciting little parts of speech, aren't they? But they're all-too-often categorically abused. Here's the thing. If you write in a modifier, ask yourself two things. First, does using this modifier change, clarify, or improve the functionality of this sentence? Sometimes it does. Rarely is that modifier "very," "completely," or "suddenly." If the sentence says the same thing with or without the modifier, you don't need a modifier. Second, does using this modifier take care of that functionality in the BEST way possible, or would using a more precise noun or verb do the trick? Yes, there are some times when the cadence or style benefits from using the modifier-noun/verb combo more than that one precise noun or verb. They're rare. Use them sparingly. In the meantime, DTSM.

3) Pare down the Crap. Taken from my Word doc Comment bubbles : Ok, we need to pare down the crap here. I could write a book on PARING DOWN THE CRAP but, well, it would probably be mostly crap I’d have to pare down. Sometimes when we write first drafts we tend to repeat the same things in the first drafts and use fluffy filler words to express things to others that say what we mean. Yeah. But not all repetitive junk is technically repeated--often, it's redundant because the reader has already inferred it. If you mention that Susan and Jack are meeting after Susan observes Jack's first day on the job, you don't need to tell us that the purpose of the meeting is an evaluation and discussion about that aforementioned first day on the job. Just say Susan watched Jack like an obsessive hawk all day and then asked to meet with him. We know why.

If you're wondering, I got an email back from the friend that said "This was harsh but I couldn't stop laughing--and yeah, you're right." Now--I do NOT recommend being a crankypants editor with your friends unless you KNOW that you share the same vicious sense of humor--and that that sense of humor applies to what others say about your work, as well. Tactfulness goes a very long way, and usually produces more constructive results than bluntness does. But sometimes giving yourself permission to see the worst in a CP's work--or your own!--gives you the freedom to see the best, too.

What does your Mean Editor say?


anachronist said...

My mean editor often says: delete everything and start anew. Preferably after a night's rest or a walk. I am rarely satisfied with my work and I always appreciate honest opinions. I might cry in the closet for hours but eventually I will appreciate even more.

Connie Keller said...

I love DTSM! You should copyright it. ;)

Rowenna said...

A--I can hear that! I'm my worst critic most of the time :)

Connie--LOL, thanks! I have to remind myself of that one often.