Sunday, January 29, 2012

A smoother read

Found online: It was Williams, after the disastrous three-year tenure of Bob Wade, who picked up the pieces of a shattered program and made Maryland matter again. 

There's an easier way to do this for the reader.

After the disastrous three-year tenure of Bob Wade, it was Williams who picked up the pieces of a shattered program and made Maryland matter again.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Not quite

FOUND ONLINE: Head coach Mike London and the Virginia football team picked up another commitment for the Class of 2012 Sunday, as running back Divante Walker has verbally committed to the Cavaliers.

The problem is that this isn't the Class of 2012. If they're lucky, they'll graduate from UVa in 2016 or 2017. It IS the high-school Class of 2012, however, but that's not what they're writing about.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

When I'm editing...

As an editor, I do the obvious, of course: I look for typos, misspellings and factual errors, but there's much, much more.

While editing and vetting a novel, I quickly realized that the writer had an Army general shooting snipers. It was her business, of course, but a general would never get in that situation. A colonel? Maybe, but not likely. A major? Possibly. The lower the rank, the more plausible this would be.

She laughed. She already knew that a general would never be caught with a rifle shooting snipers. She hoped that no one would catch it. If I caught it, she said, someone else would; so she turned the general into a major. The story immediately became more believable. Not a lot, but some. A gunny sergeant would make sense.

One of her characters was a double agent, and she'd use a real name part of the time and her code name at other times. I found it confusing, and I told her so. Hey, this wasn't James Bond one time and 007 another. This was Jade (or whatever) one time and Jasmine (or whatever) another.

In another book, this one about ancient Egypt, she had a character whose name didn't seem to fit the time and place. She thought that name might have been used at that time and place, but she changed it. I think the story became a little more plausible.

While editing another book, I noticed that the writer wrote Phillipians when he meant Philippines. Slight difference.

I do a lot of grunt work, whether it's in fiction or non-fiction books, letters, web sites, term papers or whatever. I look for parallel construction, changes of tense, tangled sentences. If I find a 50-word sentence, I'll look for ways to convert it to a least two or more sentences.

I check for redundancies or words left out (or reversed). I look for the simplest way to say something. And I check as many facts as I can.

I ask questions: Does the writer need this long, detailed explanation? Can we say this in 50 or 100 fewer words? Is this sentence clear? Is the writer just saying the same thing over and over?

Even in the doctoral dissertation, I found ways to combine redundant sentences to make it simpler and easier to read. I even broke up a few long sentences and paragraphs for his professor's benefit.

When I edit, I think, is this comma necessary? Should it be a semicolon or a dash? Would this sentence be better with a comma? Is the writer using too many exclamation and question marks? The decisions are almost instantaneous (I've been doing this 30-plus years).

The novelist mentioned above had trouble with punctuation. She'd have a quote with a question or exclamation mark AND a comma -- "We never eat out anymore. Why is that?," Martha asked. She didn't need the comma.

I've been pleased with her improvement. I find fewer typos and outright mistakes. Her copy's cleaner and easier to read. She's getting better by the chapter.
I once was "Americanizing" British non-fiction books for sale in North America. I changed "favour" to "favor," "maximise" to "maximize," and "behaviour" to "behavior." "Loo" became "toilet"; "solicitor" turned into "lawyer", and "lift" became "elevator." With the help of Google, British slang was translated, and when I could, I changed soccer analogies to baseball, basketball or American football. It works better for U.S. readers. 

I did more than that, of course, but you get a flavour, no, flavor of what I did in this case.

I remind the writer to proofread and edit his/her work a few minutes and a few days later, time permitting. I tell writers to get a second or third pair of eyes on their work; don't trust Aunt Jane or Uncle Bernie. A professional editor can make your writing sparkle and make you look good.

It's all part of editing. Some writing is so muddled that I need a Rosetta stone. Other times, I don't have much to do. Whether I'm editing a book or working for a newspaper (I've worked at nine), my job is to help the writer and the reader. I work to make the writer's writing shine. My editing will help the reader assimilate the most information in the easiest manner.

I may cost a little more than some copy editors (and less than many others), but I'm worth it. And your writing's worth it, too.

Contact: I can be reached at or

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Thursday, January 19, 2012


Last year, I was editing an aspiring novelist who was struggling with attribution. He'd write something like this:

She stated, "You are a real dummy. "
And I'd change it to:

"You are a real dummy," she said.

The word "stated" is stilted. In most cases, "said" works fine.

"I'm a good writer, but I can be better," he said. (This is the simplest form of attribution.)

"This year," he said, "has been tough for the Republican Party." (This breaks up the same-ole, same-ole.)

"Our team has improved the last five games," said Neidermeyer, the team's third-year coach. (This is a smooth way to do attribution.)
Don't worry; attribution is often a problem for even experienced writers and editors. Where do you put the "he said"?

I found this one day in a New York Times story: “My nose tells me he’s a dealmaker kind of guy as long as both sides are playing straight,” the New England Patriots’ owner, Robert K. Kraft, said. I would change the last part of the sentence to say: ," said Robert K. Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots.

In my last newspaper job, the reporters thought the editor preferred the mangled form, so they'd write, "We really like our jobs," Joe Schmoe, news director of the radio station, said Thursday. No, the editor actually preferred, "We really like our jobs," said Joe Schmoe, news director of the radio station.

It'd be nice to get Thursday in there, but it's implied that it would be a Thursday interview for a Friday newspaper. You can't put everything in there.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Minor edits

Found online: The Oakland Raiders have extending their list of potential head-coaching candidates to Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, according to a league source.

I hope the writer meant extended rather than extending.

I also don't care for Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. That's called a stacked modifier.

The Oakland Raiders have added Dom Capers, the Green Bay Packers' defensive coordinator, to their list of head-coaching candidates, according to a league source.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Be positive

I realize it's personal preference, but this sentence bothers me.

Several reports, including Fox's spot-on Jay Glazer, said a Brady Quinn package was inserted by coach John Fox in case Tebow faltered.

I would change it this way:

Several reports, including Fox's spot-on Jay Glazer, said coach John Fox inserted a Brady Quinn package in case Tebow faltered.

Contact: I can be reached at or Also, my Twitter handle is EDITORatWORK.

(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)

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