Tag Archives: editors

The Editor’s Carols

After my previous editorial music video, I had a couple of requests for some Christmas songs. Which is good, because I was going to do it anyway. Here’s my medley – quick and dirty, because I’m too busy editing to spend all day on it. (I’m not lying: I’m fully booked – editing full books!)

Rime of the Ancient Editor

Marie-Lynn Hammond (a luminary in the world of Canadian folk music and also a professional editor) was asked to write a song to celebrate the 40th birthday of Editors Canada (also known as the Editors’ Association of Canada), and she asked me to join in writing the words. She wasn’t able to be at the conference in Halifax, so I led those present at the opening reception in singing it. Here’s a cellphone video of it.

And here are the words:

I am an ancient editor (well, OK, not that old);
I do to words what’s right and true and also what I’m told.
I mostly work alone and yet I’m not alone at all,
for editing lures many with its nerdy siren call!

Hey ho! Haul up the manuscriptand brave the waves of prose,
and on the storm of muddy words some order we’ll impose.
Hey ho! Fix up the manuscript by sunlight and by moon!
We’ll steer a course to clarity for deadline’s coming soon!

I sail through books and articles, and sometimes even verse;
I try to make them better or at least not make them worse.
I move, delete, and query, tracking changes all the while,
And though hands and eyes may weary, still I do it all with style.

I toil in anonymity, I serve the author’s voice;
It’s grammar over glamour—but when freelance, I rejoice!
For I can work from coffee shops, or home if I decide,
In my housecoat and pyjamas with my cats all by my side.

And when the writing’s so banal I fear I’ll fall asleep,
[I must] beware the dangling modifiers lurking in the deep!
And if the structure’s full of holes and threatening to sink,
I pray I’ll be forgiven should I end up in the drink!

Our crew’s been here for forty years, and we’re still going strong;
They said that we’d be obsolete, but oh! we proved them wrong.
As long as words are in the world, they’ll need a steady hand,
And that’s why we are editors, and oh! my friends, it’s grand!

Who are you, and who are you talking to?

Here are the slides from my presentation at the 2016 Editors Canada conference. I didn’t have a separate script, and I neglected to record myself presenting, so this is what there is to give you, but it covers the points; my speaking was generally expansion on the points.

Here is the whole show, downloadable: harbeck_who_EAC_201606

Here are the slides, one by one.















































Apparently ignorance is in vogue at Slate

Yesterday I had a little asterisked mini-rant about some sloppy thinking in an article on Slate. Well, today I discover that they’ve printed an article from someone who thinks that editors are narcissistic megalomaniacs who deserve no credit or consideration. I won’t name him (I’ll say why below), but I will say he knows Jack Sh…itt about editors and editing. Continue reading

Let’s be clear about something

As I often mention, I’m an editor. I’m also obviously someone who likes to play with words and who appreciates ambiguity; as I say in my About page, a word isn’t much good if it can only mean one thing at a time. Some people may consider these two facts incompatible: shouldn’t an editor’s job always be to enhance clarity?

Not to put too fine a point on it: Hell to the no! An editor’s job is certainly in many cases to enhance clarity. But by no means always. An editor is there to facilitate the best effect on the reader, which is a function of enhancing the author’s communication with the audience. But sometimes what the author wants to communicate is precisely ambiguity, open-endedness, an invitation for the reader to contribute some as well. To fill in the blanks.

Some authors value this more than others; the editor should pay attention to the author’s bent on this. (I, for instance, in writing fiction, usually prefer to let the readers fill in many visual details of the characters and contexts. If you’ve read some of my story-type word tasting notes, tell me what the following characters look like: Daryl, Jess, Margot, Ross. Why do you think so?) Inasmuch as the writing is at all an artistic expression, it has as part of its utterance “appreciate this aesthetically,” which means “look for the things that resonate with you in it,” which means that each reader will have his or her own individual experience and interpretation of it, similar but not identical to that of any other reader.

Ambiguity is even sometimes valuable in nonfiction. Well, not always so valuable for the reader per se, but quite often valuable for the author (or uttering body – much nonfiction is produced in the name of organizations or corporations), who doesn’t wish to be pinned down on this or that! And as the editor, you do have to keep that in mind. An editor has to be mentally flexible. (See Are you editor material? for more on what an editor should be.)

I mention this just because my attention has been drawn to an instance where an editor – without consulting the author, which is the worst part – made clarifying rewrites to a short story based on the editor’s own interpretations. This is an excellent example of what an editor should not just go ahead and do, and of why many writers grumble about copyeditors. The author is Mima Simić, and the story is “My Girlfriend,” published in Dalkey’s Best European Fiction for 2011. Read about it in The Facts Behind One Story in Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction for 2011.

Are you editor material?

Editing is not a glamour career. If you want to be famous, it’s not what you can do to get there (though you can be an editor and be famous for something else; I know of examples). Nor is it a career that will make you rich. (In fact, freelance editing is hard to survive at if you’re not married to someone with a good salary. In-house editing jobs can, but don’t always, pay better, but they’re not so easy to find.) Nonetheless, there are many people who want to be editors, including some who offer their editing services to friends or colleagues, sometimes without being asked. So what are the characteristics of a person who could become a good editor?

Well, first of all, if you have a burning desire to fix other people’s prose, if the very sight of a minor grammatical error puts you into a rage, if anytime you see something written you know you could have written it better, if you are often heard to counsel your friends (without being asked) on how to improve their grammar or expressions, if you perhaps carry a marker with which to correct signs in grocery stores, DO NOT BECOME AN EDITOR. At least not until you’ve grown up and changed your personality.

If, on the other hand, you love language and think it’s fun, and you love communication and understand that what’s most important in communication is bringing minds together, and that the results dictate the means, you could become an editor.

If you always have to have things your way, STAY OUT OF EDITING. If making other people happy makes you happy, you may be editor material.

If you are often heard to say things like “That doesn’t matter” and “Why should I care about that?” and “I don’t know about that; it’s not important to me” and “Why do you know all these dumb, useless things,” you will never make any sort of decent editor. On the other hand, if other people often say things like that to you, you very well may! Certainly, if you are more likely to say “I wonder” and “Let’s find out” and “Let me look that up,” and if reading reference works and looking random things up out of sheer interest is something you have always done for fun, you have the right disposition to become an editor.

If you see something that you don’t recognize and don’t know the function of, and you conclude it’s useless, stay out of editing. If you see something that you don’t recognize and don’t know the function of, and it provokes in you an excited desire to find out what it is and what it does, you’re editor material.