The Writer’s Nightmare: Copy Editing

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Hi. My name is Tom, and I’m a Survivor Of Copy Editing. (“Hi, Tom!”) This is my first SOCE meeting (#1–see note below), and I’m glad to see so many other writers here. I thought maybe I was the only one in the world, but obviously I’m not (#2–see note below). I’ll just say a few words, and then we can have coffee and cake (#3).

Mrs John Doe_4_20_bI’ve just completed my revisions of my forthcoming novel, MRS. JOHN DOE, following the intensely thorough copy edit of my brilliant copy editor. The manuscript had already gone through my wonderful editor, who offered both general and page-by-page notes, so I was feeling rather (#4) proud of myself. Imagine my chagrin (#5) when I saw the copy edit!

When I first dreamed of being a novelist, I thought novels sprang, fully formed and gleaming, from the mind of the author. It never occurred to me that perhaps authors sometimes made mistakes in grammar and punctuation. (#6) I wasn’t aware that we might actually misspell Mississippi, or that we’d accidentally switch the color of our hero’s eyes/hair/shirt/sportscar (#7) in mid-narrative. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I thought it was perfectly OK (#8) to write that the distance from New York City to Dijon, France, was “about 6000 miles.” (#9) Commas, semicolons, colons, em dashes–who can keep up with all that stuff? (#10) I’m weary of defending my beloved Oxford comma. (#11) And don’t get me started on my apparently lax attitude toward the past perfect tense! (#12)

Well, that’s all I wanted to say. I know the rest of you feel my pain. (#13) But I must mention in closing that I secretly love and cherish copy editors. Without them, even the best of us would look like illiterate twits. (#14) If it’s good enough for Dickens (#15), it’s good enough for me! Thank you. (#16)

#1–Check your source for SOCE. I find only SCE listed as official acronymic name of organization.

#2–Rephrase this. Ending with adverb weakens sentence structure.

#3–Suggest you use “cookies” instead. Cake is not normally served at these functions.

#4–Suggest cutting “rather.” Superfluous and incorrect.

#5–Find a more modern replacement word. “Chagrin” is archaic. Try “shocky face.”

#6–Lose “sometimes.” Imprecise. Authors always make mistakes in grammar and punctuation. Always.

#7–“Sports car” is two words, not one.

#8–Suggest preferred spelling, “okay,” for use in dialogue–or, in this case, monologue.

#9–The actual distance is 3687.03 miles. Suggest “about 4000 miles” as suitable replacement.

#10–I can.

#11–See atttached 56-page article, “The Screaming, Fiery, Violent Death of the Oxford Comma” by Shlomo Pinchpenny, PhD, MD, MBA, BFA, DDS, OB-GYN (The Grammarian Review, Vol. XVIII, Issue xviii, Nov. 2011)

#12–Suggest cutting “apparently” as imprecise and downright incorrect. In fact, you have completely ignored the past perfect tense throughout your manuscript. I have been telling you that for weeks, as you had been told before. Learn it. Embrace it. Use it!

#13–Suggest cutting “feel my pain.” Tired, overused metaphor. You can do better, yes? Suggest “catch my drift,” “dig my jive,” or “play for my team.”

#14–Stet. Amen to that!

#15–Dickens, Charles John Huffam (1812-70). British novelist, essayist, playwright, and social reformer. Source of word, “Dickensian” (adj.), meaning “in the style of Dickens.”

#16–You’re welcome.

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