All the tools you need to be a copy editor

When a friend was retrenched and asked me what you need to set yourself up as a proofreader or editor, I mentally went though the tools I use and gave her a rundown. It occurred to me the list might be useful to others. So here it is:

1. A desk of your own. This might seem too obvious and not worth listing. But it’s important to make it conscious. You can do anything on the kitchen table, in a pinch. But the concentration levels required to edit anything means you need a quiet spot to call your own. I have a big table in a communal entertainment room, which works for me since it is empty most of the day. And when people come home, I can greet them with joy. (The other benefit of having your own desk is that you can tidy it up when procrastinating.) Continue reading

How to be a good editor – it’s all in the routine

If I had serious money for all the articles and books I have edited over the years, I would be writing this from a rather nice beach house. Sadly, that is not the case – but I have amassed another kind of richness: a wealth of experience in The Way of the Editor.

And the single most important thing about the Way of the Editor is establishing a routine – the simple act of doing things in the same order every time, and the organisation of work tools so they are always in the same place (read my tips about keeping your browser organised here).
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What is editing anyway? A love letter…

Advert for my coaching business

Editing is the flowers on the windowsill in a beautifully clean and tidy room.

Well, that’s how I think of it anyway.

Writing is creative, and therefore messy. It opens drawers, scatters papers, shakes things up. Gets involved, forgets to tidy up, leaves the coffee cups on the desk. And at the end there is a piece of text: a poem, a novel, a short story, a blog post, a scientific paper.

And then there is editing. Where the papers are gathered and organised, the coffee cups cleared away, the shelves dusted, the piles of books decluttered. And then a vase of flowers on the windowsill in the sun to mark a job well done, a poem or a novel or a thesis made to shine as it was always meant to.
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Everyone is a writer. Everyone is an editor

I know, I know. A writer is someone who writes books. An editor does something important at a newspaper. That’s not you, right?

But every time you write an email, or post something on Facebook, you are writing.

Every time you go to the local print shop and organise a card or a flyer for your business, you are writing.
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A strategy for working with house style guides

Two style guide books

Two style guides with which I have grappled: the Cape Times Style Book is the 1974 edition, while Do It In Style dates from 1995.

The Associated Press has cast a very big stone among the editing pigeons: they have changed their style and now say that “more than” and “over” can both be used to indicate a greater numerical value. This probably passed most of the world by, but in the editing world it is a very big deal (read more on that from the inimitable Grammar Girl).
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Five different kinds of editing

I’ve been editing things for a very long time now, and long ago stopped thinking consciously about any of it.

But an upcoming workshop I will be offering at Cape Town’s Bergvliet High School on how to edit your own writing meant that I had to go back to basics and deconstruct a little.

It occurred to me that the list I made for that workshop, looking at what I see as the different kinds of editing might be useful to writers and people who are starting out as editors, so here it is (with examples where needed):

Proofreading – correcting basic errors like spelling, grammar, formatting and applying house style

EXAMPLE

This sentence has a grammar mistake:

Other musicians followed, though their music didn’t reach as bigger an audience as they would have liked.

Corrected to:

Other musicians followed, though their music didn’t reach as big an audience as they would have liked. Continue reading

What it means to be a copy editor

Marooned boat in a drought

The worst drought in living memory? Picture: Luis Paredes, freeimages.com

Copy editors have many things to worry about (think commas). And making sure that language is used with precision is one of those things.
In a recent a television programme, the presenter said that a particular place was experiencing the wettest winter “in living memory”.
Since such declarations about the weather happen often, and because there is, these days, always a hidden sub-text about how the observed phenomenon proves or disproves climate change theory, I started to ponder: what does “living memory” mean exactly?
The online Collins Dictionary says:

“If you say that something is, for example, the best, worst, or first thing of its kind in living memory, you are emphasizing that it is the only thing of that kind that people can remember.”

But which people? To a ten-year-old child, memory only goes back seven or eight years to when he or she is two or three. And for someone who has reached the age of 90, memory goes back many decades.
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