How to pick out an editor

Since you probably do not follow editors’ forums, I’ll spill: There are a great many people who first decided they wanted to be editors, then set forth to learn the English language.

For the record, that is not the proper order.

A high degree of English proficiency in at least one dialect is the baseline expectation for an editor, which means having been a voracious reader for at least a couple of decades. If one has to go on editorial forums and ask about punctuation because one’s chosen style guide doesn’t dictate one’s every action,  one evidently doesn’t know enough about the language to make those decisions oneself. That’s like a military platoon leader who doesn’t know basic small unit tactics outside a field manual, and is afraid to improvise under fire lest s/he break a rule.

Writers take harm by hiring a less than competent editor, or by hiring the wrong editor. I’m not the right editor for everyone or every situation; no one is.

How would I go about it, putting myself in the writer’s chair?

I would learn what editors do. An amazing percentage of writers do not understand that there are different editing modes with different objectives and requirements. In nearly every case, my first job is to explain my job to the prospective client. They come in thinking “editing is when you fix all the things and crush my soul, duh.”

I would be clear and realistic about my goals for my project. If it was meant to make money, I would develop some marketing strategy beyond “hope to get discovered without doing any actual work.” I would take a guess at the type of editing that might best help me with my goals. I would prepare to be told otherwise, but I’d at least give it some thought.

I would ignore all the gig-economy.com sites where people can just list themselves and be hired directly. I would talk to other writers, ask about their experiences. I would eavesdrop on the Facebook groups for editors. I would observe the state of the art, all the people who need a committee meeting and an emotional support group to know where to put a comma, who treat the interpretation of a Chicago Manual of Style passage like rabbinic scholars treat Talmudic passages. I would look for the people who answer the questions, and how they answer them. I would pick out a few that seemed knowledgeable, intelligent, and successful enough to share their knowledge.

Then I’d get in touch, one at a time, but at first I’d let the editor direct the process. This would not be me abrogating my right to decide; rather, it would be meant to show that I wasn’t a control freak, and to observe the editor’s screening method. I would want to decide whether I liked that method, whether I found it helpful and promising.  I would not profess to know anything about editing, though I would at least have done some basic homework. I would wait to see how well the editor guided me to a wise course of action and cooperation that would take into account my concerns and goals, about which I would expect to have been asked.

I’d keep doing this until I found someone that completed a good team, that I could afford, and above all was a knowledge sharer rather than a knowledge hoarder. This distinction is of paramount importance. Successful and skilled people tend to signify their success and skill by sharing knowledge in a generous fashion. They are never afraid they will run out of wisdom because they know how much they know. They are concerned not with being paid for every tidbit, but with giving the maximum value and support for any form of payment.

It’s expensive enough. You might as well get someone good–and that’s how I’d go about it.

Newly released: Uncle Grumpy’s Guide for the Perplexed: Volume I. Starting University, by Markham Shaw Pyle

A new release by an outstanding writer and friend.

Uncle Grumpy’s Guide for the Perplexed:Volume I. Starting University. The first in a new series … in which Uncle Grumpy—me: the historian, critic, publisher, and retired attorney Markham Shaw Pyle—explains the purpose of a university; its pitfalls; how not to let it turn into a mere trade school for you; what tools to pick up […]

Newly released…. — Markham Shaw Pyle, author & historian

Recent read: Ottoman Odyssey, by Alev Scott

The basic concept of this book was creative: After finding herself barred from Turkey, Scott (of English and Turkish parentage) decided to travel and write about the former Ottoman dominions. Most were lost to the former Sultanate just about a century ago, post-World War I.

After reading her first book, Turkish Awakening, another volume by Scott offered considerable appeal. The Erdogan government evidently wasn’t too thrilled with what she wrote. Turkey can be very sensitive about critics, enough that it has a law against “insulting Turkishness.” That includes, for example, referring to the Armenian genocide as genocidal. Formerly a somewhat authoritarian but determinedly secular republic, Turkey of late has shown significant drift toward theocracy. It once ruled much of the region, and that has left not only lingering grudges but lingering allegiances. Not everyone regrets the Turks’ absence.

D and I have been to Turkey, but only briefly. We liked what we saw, realizing our sample size was too limited for any generalization, and we liked the people we encountered. We felt safe and well treated. But that was over ten years back, and I am not sure we would return in the current climate. I’m not pointing a finger over the rise of theocratic hyper-nationalism; no American reasonably can. But I can also see why tourists were avoiding my country after 2016.

As Scott traveled about the former Ottoman lands (the Balkans, the Levant, Iraq, etc., she saw that Turkish support for local Islamic education and places of worship was on the rise. A century after its dismantlement, at least in the United States where historical understanding is atrocious, only history majors even know that “Ottoman” can mean anything other than a place to rest one’s feet.

All right. At its height, the Ottoman Empire included all the modern Balkan countries as far north as part of Hungary and some of Ukraine; the entire Black Sea coast; the Caucasus and Iraq; most of the Arabian peninsula; the north African coast from Egypt to Algeria. Its western boundaries somewhat curled around Italy. That’s big. This was a powerful, sophisticated, diverse imperium in which Muslims enjoyed preference (lower taxes, for example) but which, to be blunt, treated non-Muslims much better than western Europe treated non-Christians most of the time in most places. Jews, Greeks, Turks, Slavs, Arabs, Armenians, mostly lived and worked in amicable proximity. Western Europe took the Ottomans very seriously, especially when the Turks tried to expand into the Balkans.

Over the 1800s, the Ottoman grip grew flaccid, its member regions declaring independence or being seized by other powers. By 1900, the Ottoman Empire had a glass jaw. Siding with the Central Powers in World War I sealed its fate. When the outcome was settled, there was no more Ottoman Empire. Turks controlled only the area bounded by modern Turkey (minus Antakya, better known in the west as Antioch, which they reabsorbed in 1938-39). They had learned a thing about European wars, and they sat out the one immediately arriving. Not a single Turkish soldier died in World War II.

Postwar Turkey became a staunch NATO ally, in spite of periodic conflicts with fellow NATO member Greece, and to all external appearances was the farthest thing from seeking a new empire. Its troubles mainly involved a large Kurdish minority deeply resentful of its overlords. From the US standpoint, that’s long been the biggest problem for US support to the Kurds: such support would alienate Turkey, one of the most strategic positions in the world and a key US ally.

It has been, at least. Nowadays that alliance stands shaken and uncertain, with both sides thinking they never really knew one another. Maybe they didn’t.

If not, Scott’s book is a help in understanding the various undercurrents of that relationship. I look forward to more from her.

Making the Sausage

For some, editing might seem like literary witchcraft. Someone seems to wave a wand and it all sounds better, even if one cannot say why. I recently drafted a social medium post, looked at it, scowled, edited it, then realized that it offered two clear examples of common mistakes that most people don’t catch.  I walked through the process, and this is what came out.

Take the comment:

“I’m picturing Tony Suprano waddling out there to get his paper in his robe, feet turned out so far he could be in ballet, telling them to GTFO of there.”

I misspelled Tony’s last name. For most people, that’s where the review would stop, because that corrects the obvious mistake. But there are two hiccups, weaknesses that harm the clarity. Do you see them?

The first is phrase order. Think about the way I wrote the first part, specifically the prepositional phrases. My phrase order makes it sound as though Tony expends special effort just to make sure he is wearing his robe (as opposed to some other clothing, or none at all) when he goes out to get the Newark Daily Wiseguy. That’s not the main point, which is that he’s going out and happens to see someone who needs telling off. If there is a descriptor we can toss, it’s the one about the robe–but it’s not a bad descriptor.  It does help paint the scene and suggest timing. There’s no reason to regret it, but we could move it around:

“I’m picturing Tony Soprano waddling out there in his robe to get his paper, feet turned out so far he could be in ballet, telling them to GTFO of there.”

One could consider instead saying “a robed Tony Soprano,” but that creates some issues of its own. It over-elevates the robe’s importance, making it sound like he’s going out in judicial or ceremonial robes or somesuch, rather than in the normally assumed bathrobe. Thus, the phrase shift above. While that reads better by placing the robe phrase in a better spot, a couple of questions remain. One is murkier.

Since I said he was waddling, is it really necessary to talk about how James Gandolfini was able to turn his feet at angles well past 45°? No, but the actor’s gait was amazing to watch, especially going down his steep driveway in some hilly Newark burb. That one’s 51/49, perhaps, good arguments made for inclusion and omission.

Less acceptable are the two instances of “there.” Even with different prepositions, this is an example of the sort of overuse we see with misbegotten expressions like “off of” (please never say this). We haven’t been told the target of Tony’s vulgar admonishment, nor what they are rooting around in (let’s say it’s his recycling). Yet the choice is straightforward. If we remove the first “there” and just leave “out,” we do no harm to the meaning while improving the word count and concision. Without the second instance, in “of there,” we would lose meaning. While I don’t have Tony say what it is out of which they are to GTF, “of there” at least implies it’s something other than just standing on his property without his assent. They could be in a bush, looking in his mailbox, or indeed going through his recycling. One “there” statement must go, and it can only be the first. We get:

“I’m picturing Tony Soprano waddling out in his robe to get his paper, feet turned out so far he could be in ballet, telling them to GTFO of there.”

This is how we do this. We look at what is said and implied, toss spurious words, rearrange phrases. For me, the phrase order is the more pernicious writing issue, because my thoughts don’t always come out in the right order when writing. It’s easy to see why it happens to most people.

Just injured enough to be impaired just enough

If my back, my eyes, and my hands work, I have the capacity to do my work. If one of those doesn’t work right, that’s a big problem.

About a week ago, I was attempting to assemble a new set of hot tub steps. This was necessary because my wife has hip trouble and was finding it difficult to get in and out. I often feel powerless when it comes to Deb’s medical situations, so when life serves me up one that I can somewhat help with, it’s bad to be in my way.

This pretty sturdy and grotesquely expensive step set was difficult to find, but I did so and hauled it home. Reading the directions, which as usual were designed for two different models and which failed of course to answer some basic questions (such as why these two pieces out of these eight have special indentations about which the instructions indicate positively nothing), I gathered up tools. A regular claw hammer, hitting naked, would damage the plastic. I couldn’t find my rubber mallet, so I decided to hold a small piece of 2×4 in the proper places when banging things together.

Things were going very well, but some of the plastic pieces needed serious force in order to hammer home. That I could supply; what I forgot to supply was intellect, which would have said that using about an 8″ piece of 2×4 was dangerous. It could, for example, put my thumb too near the hammer’s trajectory–especially when striking with the flat, which made some sense when hitting a piece of wood and trying to distribute the impact area.

Then struck Darwin. I belted the wood a mighty blow, and in so doing, hit my left thumbtip with the claw side of the hammer. This action cut clear through the nail, creating a separation of about 1/8″ between the halves, and as I would soon learn, inflicted a comminuted (“broke up in pieces”) fracture of my left thumbtip.

This hurt and was rather messy, especially when it coughed up a blood clot the side of a small caterpillar. (Yes, I realize that we just reached peak ick.) D helped me wash it off and bandage it up, calling upon her old EMT skillset. I then finished building the steps, being more careful this time. When I began to feel a different sort of pain, I accepted D’s entreaties to go to urgent care.

Either I got a very new nurse, or a very sensitive one, because the sight of the thumb grossed her out. I had not known it was possible to gross out a nurse with less than a keg or so of bodily fluids or wastes; they’ve seen more disgusting things in the last week than most of us will see in a decade. After a couple of hours of being x-rayed, cleaned, splinted, and bandaged, we were ready to go back home. The pain meds were the weak kind, but that was all right, because I normally won’t take opiates if I can possibly find relief any other way. I get what they are trying to avoid, and I have no illusions that I am somehow immune.

That leaves me trying to write blog posts, conduct email correspondence, and otherwise do my work with a heavily splinted and sometimes sore left thumb.

You know, one of the best ways to appreciate a body part is to lose most of its use.

Showering? Great, with my left hand bagged and out of commission. Where I can reach with my right hand or a brush, I can scrub; feels like twice the effort. Typing? Splint keeps bumping the space bar in mid-word. Carrying grocery bags? Whatever my left hand can hold with just the fingers around a handle, it can haul. Putting on seatbelt? Careful; ram that thumbtip into anything and it’s not fun. Adjusting wing mirror on driver’s side after some parking lot donkey pushed it flat against the door? Not easy. Putting groceries on belt for cashier? One piece at a time, sorry, folks. Getting book and mouthpiece off nightstand? Roll all the way over because you only have one hand that really grasps anything heavier than paper. Anything you have to pinch/grasp with both hands, I have to adapt to handle–if I can.

The hidden issue is that thumbtip. Stick your hand out at random to turn off your lamp? Don’t bump the thumb against the lamp, or you’ll know what you did. Rooting around for something? Not with that hand, not twice. It had never occurred to me how I was so used to just shoving my hand into cabinets and drawers and such.

I don’t recommend doing this to yourself. However, it did get me thinking about high school. We had a teacher, Mr. W, who had lost an arm in some form of accident. He taught social studies and photography, coached track, and advised the yearbook. (He was the one who caught me trying to slip in the caption “Bored members…” under a photo of the school board.) He could type well and in general showed minimal impairment, a status at which I did not properly marvel back in t he late 1970s.

Mr. W, I grant it’s a little late and that you’re fifteen years deceased, but what you could do was badass. I don’t have it half as tough and I’m fumbling around here like a clod.

New re-release: Frenchy’s Whore, by Verne E. Brewer II

This tale of the Vietnam War has quite a history. I provided general editing input and line editing. Note well: the Amazon blurb is copied from my original review, thus dating back nine years. It does not reflect current impressions of the book. I believe this is destined to be fixed.

I came to know Verne some nine years ago when we were playing Castle Age, a Facebook game. He was friends with a friend. Somehow–I don’t recall exactly how–I came to learn that he had published a book based upon his experiences in Vietnam with the 173d Airborne Brigade.

Since I like stories based in authentic experience, I decided to give Verne a boost. At that time, I still had enough review weight on Amazon that I could make a difference; plus, not only did the Vietnam vets receive shameful mistreatment, but my father-in-law had been one of those vets, and I felt like it would do his memory respect to give another old jumper (them, not me, just to be clear) a boost. I ordered the book, read it, and wrote an honest review. The story was excellent, textured, with significant descriptive talent on display and that authentic feel that you can only get by being there.

Problem: It did not reflect the benefits of competent editing. This was painful. I decided mentally to give the storytelling five stars, weighted for the descriptive talent that a capable editor would have brought out, but two for the actual prose. Net, four–maybe a 3.6, but there are no fractional stars. Normally I’ll just put down a book where it’s hard to get through the writing, but I had decided to see this through and tell the truth. My review did so.

I never heard much from Verne about it at the time, and I wasn’t sure how he felt about my review, but I felt good that I’d given his book a little bump. Most people arguably wouldn’t be as affected by editing and proofreading problems as a professional editor would be. Better to have a great story with writing problems than an eloquently written yawnfest. Writing problems are repairable; well-written dullness can only be de-dulled by adding better story characteristics.

I was still in touch with Verne here and there over the years, so I was pretty sure I hadn’t pissed him off. In 2020, he got in touch to tell me a story that astonished me.

Turns out that Verne’s reaction to my review was a combination of delight with my observations and disappointment with his publisher, which had committed to provide him with some editing and proofreading support. He told me of sitting through book signings feeling embarrassed, but he saw my review as having seen through to the essence of the book, and over the years he had felt good about that. Flaws aside, the book had remained in some demand over the years, copies still selling for a significant premium on the secondary market. Now, Verne told me, he had reacquired the rights and he wanted me to help him make a new release of Frenchy’s Whore the book it always should have been.

Careful what you write in reviews, right? Someone might say: ‘Okay. I agree with everything you said. You’re on. Let’s see what you’ve got, and let’s see this book reach that potential you talked about.’

That sounded like an enjoyable assignment, though. It’s not every day you hear something about stuff you wrote nine years back. Verne wanted to make a few minor storyline corrections, extend the tale a bit longer, and then we’d be ready for a line edit. Our first hurdle was that he didn’t have an electronic copy, just a box of the remaining copies from his former publisher. This forced me to confront a question I hadn’t dealt with: How does one scan a printed book back to an electronic format? While a capable transcriber could retype the whole thing, surely there had to be a more time- and cost-efficient way. I dug around and found a service that would do it for a basic amount of $14 plus six cents a page. While I had no idea how it would go, I asked Verne if he would be willing to risk about $20-25 plus a sacrificed print copy on a chance to jump straight to electronic copy. Boy howdy he would.

While the scanned version had the expected issues, we could work with it. We discussed the prognosis and Verne decided to get moving with some rewriting and recharacterization. That process hit a few bumps, such as when Verne got hurt pretty badly in a motorcycle accident, and times when the material was difficult for him to face. I can relate to this through my own trauma experiences, which I rarely discuss here but do understand how they can play back old mental tapes. There was nothing for it but to be patient with my client’s process and life situations, which is something editors must always be ready to do. If we are not, then when we have our own life situations, we can’t expect any understanding at all.

The line editing process faced some hiccups, such as material shifts (requiring changes in introduction points, for example, with careful scrutiny) and integration of new information that gave clarity to the story. I ended up over budget, which is uncommon but can happen in spite of my best efforts. A client has the right to make late changes, of course, and I need to accommodate them.

Late in the project, it occurred to me that I could offer a contribution. My own PTSD, while not arising from anything like the Vietnam experience, has been part of my life since my teens. It had always helped me to empathize with the impact of PTSD on veterans and others, even before I understood that this was what we had in common. I offered Verne a piece for the book’s front matter regarding why Vietnam matters, and he accepted. I hope it will help readers gain increased context. Context is everything.

The biggest dilemma came with names: real names, pseudonyms, and incomplete conversions of either. Verne had the advantage of actually having known all these people; I did not. Thus, was this guy really this guy, or is this another instance of that guy? On the third pass, this drove me absolutely nuts, frustrated, furious, and excruciating. Part of that was because I wasn’t charging for it, because I was fixing my own bad judgment. At the very outset, I should have asked for a complete table of real names, pseudonyms, and jobs. While my intent had been not to make this harder on Verne than I could help–these were real people and painful memories–it was a false economy.

After about twenty hours of uncompensated floundering work, I finally put my foot down. I told Verne I needed a complete list of all the real names, any fake names, and which he intended to be used. While I tried to be non-confrontational, realizing that my anger should be taken out on myself for having not required this at the start, I was prepared to insist. When he sent me the name list and told me it was so freaking confusing, that was the first time I’d smiled about this since I’d stopped work to await the list. If it confused the author who actually knew the real people, I was hardly losing it to be so confused myself. It confirmed for me that I’d finally done exactly the correct thing.

Took me long enough.

Besides the fact that his rewriting had shown a lot of growth, Verne’s goodwill, coachability, and gratitude stood out throughout the project. He always treated me like a valued colleague, considered my guidance, and appreciated me as though I were somehow doing him a big favor (rather than planning to be paid for services rendered). In fact, I was honored my words had impacted and encouraged him so much, and more honored to be asked to participate.

This time, I feel confident that Verne’s story retains all of the original’s texture but with more consistency and polish. I believe you will agree.

Editing Your Work: Things You Don’t See In Your Own Writing — BookBaby Blog

[J here. The logical question would be whether this is also true of editors who write, and the answer is a qualified yes. I expect an editor to do better in some of these areas, but in others, we too have our blind spots.]
 

By BookBaby author Andre Calilhanna It’s easier to find flaws in someone else’s work than it is in your own. There’s a lot you can do to minimize errors and make your writing shine, but another set of eyes on your work is always a good idea. We’ve posted plenty of advice about the editing…

Editing Your Work: Things You Don’t See In Your Own Writing — BookBaby Blog

How zero-commission securities brokers get paid

Ever wonder how that can work? How can TD Outhouse, or Squab– or eSuperCheapoTechSavvyStox4U.com–afford to stay in business if they don’t charge you to trade stocks?

Okay, you know what happens with NTF mutual funds: They get kickbacks. Fine. But where’s the money come from on market-day securities trades?

It comes from you. You just don’t realize it.

The foregoing link is to a Mother Jones article that I found very informative. If you elect not to read the article, I’ll summarize it. The brokerage gets a fee from a market maker (a firm that is always buying and selling the actual securities), who gets a better deal than you do. The fee is called PFOF, or payment for order flow. The difference between what you realize and what the market maker realizes is the market maker’s profit.

If you want to watch your broker stammer and dissemble, ask them how much PFOF they get.

Does that mean that your brokerage actually does not give you the best execution on your trades? Sure does! It also means, as the article makes very clear, that the market makers want frequent trades. People who buy and hold index ETFs are their nightmare. They are making billions off the eager young investors who change their portfolios even more often than they change cellphones or social media platforms.

Is that so bad, though? Someone sells someone else the right to conduct your transaction at a slightly better price than you are going to receive. You are, in theory, your broker’s client. In practice, you are the merchandise. And the more you trade, the more often you get rooked.

It would not be bad if they put it out into the open. They don’t. Wait, if it’s legit and reasonable, why not broadcast it loud and proud? They can’t have this both ways. Either it’s sleazeball, and they would rather evade the subject, or it’s honest and decent. If it were, they’d have commercials bragging about it.

Ask yourself why they don’t.

They even have a term for this: the “dumb money” trades. Yes. The people who buy and sell stocks frequently? They tend to lose–not just in the slimy behind-the-scenes way, but because the real money is made by people who know more about it. If you’re a loser, someone else won. Of course eEpiccGetRichQuiccTrade.com will do anything it can to appeal to younger, phone-based investors with amounts of money in inverse proportion to their eagerness to risk them. They’re the easiest to fuck over.

When you see me use profanity here, it is rarely just a frustrated voice. The normal reason is to make a point. These people are fucking you, and the more business you do with them, the more they fuck you. The people you trust are whoring your trades to e-leeches. None of it is in your best interests.

I want to win. My method is to buy and hold index ETFs. I research the area of the market I want to be in, compare the available index ETFs, and accumulate shares over time. I keep doing that.

It’s dull.

It gives me no [x]-baggers to brag about.

It wins.

If you want thrills while losing money, support your local reservation casino. Then when you take a bath, at least it’ll work toward a good cause.

Will this harm eSnapStoxx or eWealthFreedumb or whatever the fad app-based brokerage is this month? Gods, I hope so. They need to be harmed. But even if you aren’t feeling vindictive and punitive, you should at least be feeling avarice in service of your best interests. Whatever makes you more money consistent with your risk objectives and temperament, that’s where you should be.

Your future isn’t a charity for the mega-rich.

The tyranny of the style book

Do you really believe there are editors who run around agonizing about commas, stressing over where to put the hyphen, and otherwise driving themselves to drink over tiny fussy little minutiae?

If you look hard enough, you can find places where they ask for help with those questions. (“Should this have a hyphen? Augh! I’ve been near self-harm for hours over this! Or is it self harm, since it’s a compound noun! I can’t even contemplate suicide correctly!”) Many are novices who decided to be editors and then to learn the English language (that’s not the correct order in which we do this), but some others are professional copy editors. And very often the question will quote The Chicago Manual of Style, the AP Style Book, or some other reference, asking for a ruling.

What’s wrong with this? Sometimes nothing. Sometimes one works in a guide-constrained environment where one of the editor’s primary duties is to conform a document to this or that style, including an internal style guide. In those cases, I understand the agonizing up to a point. One good example would be academic writing, where style fascism is the norm.

But at some point, even in those cases, there come guide-governed situations where the guide does not deliver a clear answer. Then what?

Then use your best judgment based on years of experience, familiarity with the style guide’s intent, and your own damn common sense, that’s what. Those are why you do what you do, and are in the position you are in.

What shocks me more: strict editing to a style guide, and agonizing over some point of punctuation order, when it’s not a requirement. I am serious. The editor views the CMS, or some other style reference, as a holy book whose first version came down graven on stone tablets.

It will eventually fail them anyway, because our language is too diverse for perfect coverage, even by such a voluminous reference as the Chicago Manual. But they are missing the point.

The point is that an editor has years of broad expertise with the English language. It can involve one dialect or many, but it probably began before kindergarten and involved reading hundreds of thousands of pages in varying styles of superb English before the age of twelve. Under normal circumstances, which is to say writing that does not require style guide conformity as a baseline expectation, the point of being an editor is not to worry oneself to death over whether one is in proper and full compliance with a style guide.

The point is to know the language well enough, to consult the various guides where they can be helpful, and to have enough guts and brainpower to make judgments that will make the book the best it can be for the target audience.

That is what we are here to do. Our work is to do all the things to the manuscript content that will help it be its best. What if the narrator doesn’t use upper case? Those who live in style guide tyranny might simply get busy with the Shift key. I might, too–but only after I’d reviewed the ms and satisfied myself that all lower case didn’t work well in this context. If the author’s style and syntax work well to communicate with his or her audience, I’m not likely to change those aspects. Correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation are the defaults, but they are not inviolable. There are times to break every rule in service of the greater good.

You aren’t supposed to cross a doubled solid yellow line when driving, at least in the US. That’s usually because that would take you into the oncoming lane in a dangerous situation (such as passing on a curve or while cresting a hill), which could produce a serious kinetic energy problem. It’s a good rule. Most of the time most people should comply. But what if an accident is imminent, and the only way to prevent it is to cross that line? What if there is a serious emergency meriting the risk? I’d rather get a ticket for illegal passing (and there are police stupid enough to give such a ticket, trust me; I once received an even stupider one) than be cut out of the wreckage by the jaws of life. Or have my remains cut out at leisure once they attend to everyone they can still save.

Style guides aren’t law books, and they are not crutches for indecision. If the work requires style guide conformity, all right; but if an uncovered situation arises, that’s why an editor has experience and judgment. It’s time to use them. That’s why not everyone can do this. If one needs to explain a decision to the client, that’s what margin comments are for.

One has to know the rules well enough to judge when to ignore them.

There’s a great part in one of W.E.B. Griffin’s books, the ones before his son started performing some unspecified percentage of the work, doing proportionate damage. Griffin was a military/police/intelligence fiction author of some note. While he had his weaknesses, the strengths were great enough to outweigh those failings. In this situation, the US Army is getting ready to invade Cuba after we bungled the Bay of Pigs. It is necessary to move an armored division by rail from somewhere inland to New Orleans, so it can be loaded for the voyage. There is a fascinating discussion of the logistical headaches involved in entraining about 450 tanks plus all their supporting people and equipment, the sort of detail into which Griffin always knew when it was time to deep-dive. In the end, it comes down to an engineer company that is already loaded, and a colonel tasked with getting things moving. The colonel has an idea how the engineer company can help get the division’s vehicles loaded on rail cars that are showing up with mixed consists. He wants to use their forklifts and other hoisting equipment.

The company commander is the POV character, and he is respectfully dismissive. He figures that the colonel probably considers himself the first person ever to think of using forklifts to load tanks. The captain thus states that it’s against regulations, and worse yet, that it would likely result in the equipment’s eventual destruction due to exceeding safety parameters, which, sir, as the colonel can surely see, exist to prevent such disasters. And therefore, with respect, sir, he can’t do it.

The colonel asks the obvious question, paraphrased from my memory: “Captain, has it ever occurred to you that your goddamn intact drag lines would look pretty silly sitting on a Cuban beach if the division’s tanks were still hung up in Texas waiting for proper train consists?”

When I see a style guide used like a crutch or a bible in situations where there is no specific rule that it must govern, I feel like I’m watching someone who would end up on the beach in Cuba with functional rock crushers, forklifts, and other construction equipment, having not brought the armored fighting vehicles that might make the invasion succeed. I laugh every time at this picture. “Mi comandante, the norteamericanos have landed on the beach!” “With what?” “Señor, they appear to be construction engineers. They have brought a road grader, some forklift trucks, and a backhoe.” “That is all? No tanks?” “None, mi comandante.” “Teniente, if you have been drinking rum on duty, your next assignment will involve cutting sugar cane–and you will not be supervising the process.”

Use your judgment. If you are afraid to use your judgment, overcome this unbecoming fear. Your client depends upon your judgment. If it was just about a damn style guide, the client could read that herself. You’re here to make decisions in her best interests.

Make them. Have and share good reasons for them. Be ready to have them questioned.

Being questioned is not time to wallow in imposter syndrome. Being questioned is time to show off the experience and consideration you invested. Explain your thought process. Show your client the level of effort you expend for what she pays. You should be proud of it.

The clients who write best tend to be the most questioning. They are the clients who drive you to become better.

BattleBots: S10 E4 — BattleBots Update

[J here. This time, for something completely different, I give you Draco’s take on a recent episode of Battlebots. While an editor can guide and teach many writing skills, some writers just have a voice that entertains. I’m a fan.]

[BattleBots: S10 E4 is available via streaming on Discovery+.] Welcome back to BattleBots Update. Took a quick break because I have the freedom to do so on account of being the only moron chasing pavement now that the season is over and I’m late. I’m also basically begging you to rewatch things you’ve probably long…

BattleBots: S10 E4 — BattleBots Update

Blogging freelance editing, writing, and life in general. You can also Like my Facebook page for more frequent updates: J.K. Kelley, Editor.