What drives an editor crazy?
October 1, 2012 | Written by Chip MacGregor
Someone wrote to ask a favorite question: “Are there some editing errors that drive you crazy?”
Yes! Of course! Here’s one! Novelists who use exclamation points as though the period key didn’t work on their keyboard! I hate this! Really! What’s worse is the writer who needs to use several at once!!!!
Here’s “another” one: Occasionally you’ll find “authors” who feel a “need” to put any emphasized words in “quotes,” since they think it makes them look “official.” This is particularly tiresome when a “funny” author decides to put his “punchline” in quotations. An “idea:” cut the quotation marks.
And a third (related) item: People who use an open parenthesis but no close parenthesis. (For example, this kind.
Number four: The serial comma. The rule for using commas is that there should be ONE LESS COMMA THAN THE ITEMS IN YOUR LIST. So if you list five things, you’d use four commas. Let me offer an example… “Farnsworth visited Italy, Spain, Bermuda, and Angora.” Note that there are four countries and three commas — one less than the list. Writers will often drop the serial comma, in an apparent attempt to make “Bermuda and Angora” one country (sort of like Trinidad and Tobago, if you need a geography joke).
5. Notice the unclear way I’ve used to create this list. I didn’t number the first or second. Then I used “third” and “fourth,” followed by the number 5. An editing error that drives me up a tree is jumbled numbers in a list. For some reason, Number-Impaired People will make an outline that reads, “First,” followed by “Two,” then “C,” and then “4.” (Or, occasionally, “13.”) Make all your numbered lists consistent. And try not to put a numbered list within another numbered list. Too many numbers drives editors insane.
Sixth: Please notice I didn’t write “sixthly.” From a strict editorial viewpoint, there is no reason the word “firstly” or “secondly” exists. To number a list as “first” or “second” is to adverbialize them. To add “ly” is to adverbialize them. Therefore, why in the world would you adverbialize an adverb? Why write “firstly” when all you really need to write is “first”? Besides, if it’s a long list, can you really defend “thirteenthly”?
Seventh: Figure out the difference between “your” and “you’re” before writing you’re book. Ditto for “its” and “it’s.” And “there” and “their.” [Warning to the humor-impaired: there is a deliberate error in that first sentence. Ask your mom to explain it to you.]
Eighth: Your spell-checker is not to be relied upon. Ewe can knot really on it too pickup ever thin.
Ninth: Print out a copy of your proposal or manuscript and look it over. If the FIRST WORD of every paragraph is the same, you need to go back and change it. (Unless the first word of every paragraph is the word “I,” in which case you need to be slapped by the person sitting next to you, THEN go back and change it.) The same holds true for authors who use five different types of font on the cover page. I sometimes get queasy looking over the waves of font attacking me.
Tenth: Maxwell Perkins once said that “style” is nothing more than one author’s decision to misuse the rules of grammar. A good editor will let you misuse it in order to help you create voice (any reading of William Faulkner is evidence of that). But that same editor will notice when you’ve crossed over to misusing it and sounding like a moron. Listen to your editor.
May I suggest two wonderful grammarphiles you can read in order to get a good grasp of the rules of grammar? Take a peek at Karen Gordon’s Transitive Vampire and Well Tempered Sentence, as well as Patricia O’Connor’s Woe Is I. Both authors actually have a sense of humor in talking about “the rules.”