Posts tagged proofreading
Semicolons
Twenty-five thousand people died in the course of four British/American air raids on Dresden over three days in February 1945.

Twenty-five thousand people died in the course of four British/American air raids on Dresden over three days in February 1945.

House bile is an occasional feature explaining a) what to do, (2) what not to do and iii. why that convention you've been following is dumb. This time, we look at semicolons.

Kurt Vonnegut famously wrote:

Here is a lesson in creative writing. The first rule: do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.

Here’s another lesson: Kurt Vonnegut was a de facto apologist for antisemitism whose patriarchal wisdom and puerile cartoons have distracted generations of nerdy only-child devotees from his (mostly innocuous, but unmistakable) misogyny.

Vonnegut also claimed to self-edit every sentence in real time: writing and rewriting until perfect, before moving onto the next. This is a terrible approach that will frustrate your development as a writer the same way his take on the semicolon might permit you to think that not learning how to do something might somehow make you better at it than everyone else. (And I’m a fan.)

Here’s my lesson: write lots. Write often. Write well and rewrite worse. Write badly and throw it away. Write middlingly and store it on a cloud drive you’ll lose access to through unwitting non-compliance with Orwellulaneous updates to the privacy policy. Write and write and write and write, and eventually you’ll get to something that looks like the truth – even if that truth is that you weren’t meant to be a writer, which is something that is both okay and fine.

Know that semicolons are for complex lists and the separation of independent, but related clauses, and Google examples of their application every time you’re tempted to use one – just to check! – like everyone else.

Another list of banished words is 'in the books'

The aptly named Lake Superior State University published the 44th instalment of their banished words list at the start of the year. This tradition, one of several eccentric marketing ploys dreamed up by the late W T Rabe, invites members of the public to nominate words and phrases that have slipped into common parlance despite their impotent disapproval.

This year’s nominations, as with the full list itself, is a mix of neologisms, management-speak clichés and terms contributors consider to be variously too old-fashioned or too modern to be uttered again. Notable items include:

  • ‘ghosting’, to cease communication with someone suddenly, without explanation, usually in the dating world;

  • ‘crusty’, which contributor Hannah notes has (recently?!) “become a popular insult”; and

  • ‘Thought Leader’, essentially someone widely recognised as an expert in the field.

Lists like this are invariably haughty, prescriptive attempts to define what is and isn’t ‘proper’ in a language whose strength lies in its continuous development. They’re based primarily on snobbery and linguistic prejudice, which often reflect the latent prejudices of their authors and readers.

Of course, these lists also sit nicely in the ‘bit of fun’ category. I’m also aware that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. But any serious suggestion that there are (or should be) rules proscribing the use of modern, fashionable or (whisper it!) annoying verbiage should be approached with caution. That such a message might come from a US university (albeit a small one) at a time when freedom of speech is such a hot-button issue on campus…

Well, just consider the optics.

Five reasons to choose a small organisation for all your editing needs

Recently, I read an (old; 2016) article posted on Twitter called Five reasons to choose a large organisation for all your editing needs and…I didn’t agree with anything it had to say.

So, here’s a rejoinder. Not to the company that posted it (whose claims about their own practices I’m in no position to dispute) but to the broader claims made in the piece and implied by its premise.

  1. Large organisations are slow. More staff = more meetings, more (planned and unplanned) absences and worst of all, more bureaucracy. Go with small companies or sole traders and you’ll work with proud, dynamic and enthusiastic individuals eager to show you what they can do – with the power to make all their own decisions.

  1. Large editing companies who turn work over to a network of freelancers are middlemen: every such company I’ve ever been approached by pays (at minimum) 30 per cent below market rate, and often much less. I’ve even been asked to work on manuscripts by firms handling editing for well-known publishers for fees equating to just half of the living wage. I do get it; things are tough all over. But if you pay a small business or freelancer directly, 100 per cent of the fee goes to the people doing the hard work.
  1. Because these companies tend to pay poorly, they often attract less experienced editors. It’s really hard to get started as a small business, so many newbies will accept unsustainably low rates just to gain a bit of experience, or stay in the game. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that, but without the ability to personally assess your editor’s credentials and suitability you’re trusting a large company not to hook you up with someone ill-equipped to produce the results you deserve.
  1. Perhaps you’re swayed by the rather romantic notion of large companies taking care of their freelance networks, offering them training, support and advice to help them grow as professionals and, ultimately, serve you better.
    Back on Planet Earth, members of freelance databases are not employees, and don’t have access to the entitlements of employees. Say you work in an office: you’re no doubt familiar with visits from the electrician, the building maintenance team and the people who deliver cleaning supplies. But you’ve probably never seen them in one of your training courses, on a staff away-day, or even at the Christmas party. Sure, some large companies may offer certain benefits to their networks. But access to them is likely extremely limited, while any freelancer worth their salt is already undertaking (and paying for) their own CPD and gaining support from (paid for) memberships to professional organisations, like the SfEP.
  1. I’ve already shown you how large companies often cream huge margins from freelancers’ pay; but don’t imagine it stops there. Large companies can offer competitive pricing, and sometimes offer discounted rates that a sole trader would struggle to match. But common sense tells us something more fundamental: if they’re screwing me then they’re probably screwing you, too.

    Just as businesses can explain away shortfalls in contractors’ pay as some kind of trickle-down finders’ fee, they’re likely charging you a premium for project management – something you’d have done (in my experience, very happily and well) in conjunction with your editor proper.

Needless to say

House bile is an occasional feature explaining a) what to do, (2) what not to do and iii. why that convention you've been following is dumb. This time, we look at the expression needless to say.

If something needs to be said, say it. Don’t tell me it doesn’t need to be said. It’s confusing and unnecessary. Seriously, just what are you trying to do here? Sneak some crucial, always-read-the-small-print detail past without my noticing?

Hm. No. That’s not it. You’re making fun. You’re trying to patronise me in some way I haven’t yet figured out. You want me to know that something is obvious that it doesn’t need to be pointed out, except to me.

Yeah, that’s it! You’ve figured out that when I see ‘needless to say’, I deduce ‘needless to read’. Then I skip ahead a couple of percentage points on the progress bar; I’ve got a Grisham lined up next. He’s turning out two a year these days – more than double my reading rate since I reactivated Netflix for Can’t Pay? We’ll Take it Away.

Review: The Editing Podcast

A new weekly podcast explores the intricacies of the editing process from a range of perspectives.

Luminaries from the SfEP, Denise Cowle (non-fiction) and Louise Harnby (fiction), launched The Editing Podcast at the start of 2019. Their experience, friendly and direct presenting style and insight make them the perfect double act for a show that promises to be of interest to writers and editors alike.

Cowle and Harnby are meticulousness personified, and their conversation walks the (often slippery) line between carefully scripted and charmingly ad lib. In addition to their own professional wisdom, the pair take time each week to share a selection of editing ‘bites’: links to valuable services, courses and articles that expand upon that episode’s discussion, which is itself transcribed and posted online for good measure.

A recent episode about sample edits – short extracts from larger texts edited in advance of a contract being signed – embodied the podcast’s collaborative ethos perfectly: “both [authors and editors] use them and both…benefit from them,” notes Harnby. Indeed, sample edits allow authors and publishers to see the kind of work the editor might do for them, while editors get to see exactly what’s required.

Editing is a two-way street, after all, and with future episodes due to focus on topics like choosing an editor and the crucial issues of time and money management, Harnby and Cowle will be bringing that message home for a long time to come.

The Editing Podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts.