Fear of a red pen

This is what happens when you run Finnegan's Wake
through a spellchecker. Really.
I'm reading another advanced copy from NetGalley and, unfortunately for the book, I've started to mentally edit it. I'd blame work, where I edit newsletters for faculty and the state library association. I've gotten used to slicing and dicing purple prose and beating awkward sentences into shape*. But it's not just that. It's because the writing in this book really did need more time with a quality copyeditor and because I suspect that publishers--from the bigs on down--are cutting corners when it comes to editing.

The author is the source of the story, the creativity, the fire of a great book. In spite of that, editors are vital. When you spend a lot of time with your own writing, you stop seeing the problems. If your ego gets in the way, your errors don't look like errors. (Or, as I used to call them when I was an undergraduate: style.)

The problem I'm having with the book I'm reading is that I'm about a third of the way through and I'm kind of liking the story. I'm trying to stay in the story while at the same time mentally trimming the sentences and denuding the nouns of their second adjective. Clearly, a good story can overcome a lot. I never thought I would admire Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy's iconic stripped down prose as much as I do. Simple sentences can carry more power than the overly ornate ones. Still, geniuses can create grammatically quirky sentences that I love. And round and round we go from author to editor to author to editor. They're a team.

I would be terrified to be a professional editor. How do you tell an author they're wrong? I mean, look at that text from Finnegan's Wake. That's wrong by any stretch of Strunk and White. But then it was written by James Joyce. How do you keep from over-editing and making the text sound like yourself? Just because it sounds right to me doesn't make it correct. That's what I have co-editors to share the blame with if we slash and burn too much.

And if an editor does their job right, you'll never notice their touch on the text.


* I realize that it's cocky of me to write this, since I know that my own prose needs work and that I miss spelling errors. I'm going to write this post anyway.

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