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I am an editor at the University of California Press and author of the first full-length handbook ever published on the subject of developmental editing.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Stop Editing Me

“Stop editing me, please.” This statement, phrased in various ways, has punctuated the history of my personal relationships. My good-natured life partner—who equates my editing fervor with my housekeeping mania —leaves the premises when I begin cleaning so that he won’t “get swept up and left out on the curb.” For better or worse, editing is more than a profession—it is a personal disposition, a compulsive desire for order, a need to find patterns of meaning in a random world.


  1. This reminds me of a phone conversation I had a few years back with one of my friends who specializes in "personalized spelling." Commenting on an email he had sent me, he was defending the contents when I hotly protested that I had not corrected or even commented on a single mangled item. He retorted, "But I could hear you thinking it!"

  2. Thanks, Susan, for the phrase "personalized spelling": I will use it!

    Early in my career as an in-house project editor, I had an author who objected to my copyeditor's imposition of consistency on his spelling. I was astonished: how could anyone purposely desire inconsistent spelling in their published work? This author reminded me that Shakespeare cared so little for consistency that he spelled even his name variously. And, of course, the author hauled out the old Emersonian chestnut, "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

    Actually, as most editors would be quick to note, what Emerson said was, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin..." The qualifier gets conveniently dropped. But rather than argue the merits of consistency, I went along with this author's line of thinking. I asked, "So you use 'valor' on page 29 and 'valour' on page 84. What different shades of meaning do you intend in these two spots?" He was stymied and eventually capitulated (though he insisted on a few variant spellings to save face).

    Since then, I've made an effort to ask myself: Am I insisting on consistency out of personal compulsion or true editorial need? I find that inconsistency is rarely defensible, but asking the question keeps my consistency from veering toward the foolish.