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But I’m having one of those days when I just don’t want to be a writer (or editor) anymore. When you’ve gone out, gotten some experience, gotten some training, and gotten an earful of cheerleading about “knowing your worth” and “charging accordingly for your services” and then turn around and go out there only to have employers cringe at you for asking said professional wage, well, maybe it becomes time to pack in the delusions and pick another job.

All writing is only so much content creation and all editing a glorified manual spell-and-grammar-check, right? Who needs to pay anyone to do that? I’m sure someone is already working hard at an SEO article content generator anyway, and everyone already has MS Word, which will check your subject verb agreements quite handily.

Yes, yes, persistence and positive attitude. Stay on course and work hard, something is bound to happen. Don’t give up on your dreams. Chase them rainbows. Says my persistent, hardworking inner pessimist, “Know when you’re bloody well licked.”

And just as I finished writing this little screed, I got a phone call offering me a regular freelance editing gig with a magazine/publisher I really like, and at an acceptable wage.

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

Update: I also got a little raise from my other freelance gig. I can’t remember the last time someone offered me more money for doing anything. Feels pretty sweet.

A funny thing happened at the Editors’ Association meeting last night. Biscuit and I had just arrived and we took a seat in the comfy chairs outside the meeting room to wait for the doors to open. On the coffee table was a stack of magazines. (Free magazines! Are there sweeter words? Perhaps “Free Beer.”)

The magazine was Bridge Magazine, which I immediately recognized as being the very same magazine that my mom had told me a pharmacy tech at her work was trying to start. In fact, my mom had given me the editor’s business card some time ago in case I wanted to write for them. I didn’t get around to e-mailing the woman, but here it was, Volume 1, Issue 1 of Bridge.

As someone who has thought and procrastinated on starting my own magazine for I don’t know how long, I felt vicariously excited for my mom’s co-worker. We were flipping through, checking it out when an older woman leaned in and opined “Well, they could have used a copy editor.” Smug. Another one piped up “Yes, and they don’t have much advertising.” Fellow know-it-all editor types, know two things about start-up magazines:

  1. Typos are going to happen – there’s much going on trying to get content, doing the design and putting the puppy in print that you can’t always get a stickler editor/proofreader in the mix. Does it matter?
  2. It takes some pretty serious selling to get advertisers for a first issue. Bravo for getting at least one advertiser, let alone five!

For a moment there, I thought about approaching the mag to offer my copy editing services. But is there a tactful way of approaching clients who could probably could use a little help in this arena? “Hi, I noticed you have a few spelling, grammar and punctuation errors – wanna hire me for (insert shocking dollar figure) per hour to fix ’em?” People tend to be sensitive about their writing and it’s often the editor’s job to reassure and hand-hold the editee that they’re not just going to chop copy to pieces. Although secretly, we do kind of enjoy that. Freelance Writing Jobs recently had an interesting post and discussion on tactfully, or not, pointing out client’s errors, albeit in job postings. In most businesses, I think, it’s a selling point to point out how you can help the client and your past success with helping others, not so much with editing. On my professional site, I don’t post editing samples anymore because there’s a tacit insult to clients in publicy posting their errors, right? (Although I do have samples available, if someone needs to see my work.)

Good editing and good editors, especially copy editors, disappear into the night. So perhaps the woman who came down on the copy editing was really saying “I wish I had my own magazine. I wish I wasn’t so invisible.” Or was that just the nagging voice in my own head? Volume 1, Issue 1: I salute you.

Normally, I don’t pick up the 24, but yesterday’s deliciously alliterative headline drew me in:

Snow Dooms Dome

I wasn’t quite sure why it captured me so at first – perhaps just the rhythm of the three short words with their “o” vowel sounds. Then it was the “dooms dome.” Finally, I realized that it was the succession of sounds in the headline – o, oo, o – which sounded a lot like the “dum dum dum” that is the sound effect that often signals something ominous, like in a horror movie or an ironic turn of events. And so, the news of the report into the collapse of BC Place’s improbable roof was perfectly foreshadowed.

I don’t like the 24 on the whole, for the way they are always shoving it on people outside SkyTrain stations and then the bloody paper is all over the place because people discard it so easily, but I have to admit they have some brilliant headlines. Matt wrote last year about their deliciously ambiguous “Cold Spurs Rush to Shelters” headline, and I’ve never quite forgotten about it.

As a bonus, on my way home, the local community rag also caught my eye:

Police get Proactive

And the name of the program? “Project Protect”! Delicious.

Have you ever worked in an office with a filthy kitchen and a fridge with all of last year’s lunches oozing out of it? Was there a sign above the sink reading “Your mother doesn’t work here” or “BYO Maid” and suchlike? Then check out the Passive-Aggressive Notes blog – especially if you hate people who resort to passive-aggressive behaviours instead of saving everyone time and aggravation by coming out and saying what they want. I love all the notes – and responses – from people for whom directness is NOT a way of life.

If punctuation abuse is more what gets your blood boiling – i.e. you nodded in sympathy on every page of Eats, Shoots & Leaves – there are two blogs that feel your pain (both found via the aforementioned P-A blog):

I especially liked the post on picking apart the unnecessary use of quotation marks by Truamn Capote (!) in In Cold Blood. I myself am a recovering quotation mark and unnecessary brackets abuser.

As an afterthought, I wonder if I am being passive-aggressive about my issues with passive-aggressiveness by writing this post to encourage others to recognize it and stop doing it. Man, do I ever hate indirectness and veiled commands. So just don’t do that, please.

The coffee kvetch turned out a light crowd last night. I thought perhaps it was the sunny weather that made people stay away, but this morning’s e-mails revealed a collection of apologies for the minor personal tragedies and conflicts that kept people from meeting. Myself, I was tempted by a sudden invite to a family dinner, but since I’m the instigator of the club, I felt like I ought to show up.

Oh yes, and I apologize to James and Julian for offering to drive them home and then almost getting into an accident with a near-horrendously timed turn. There was silence in the car all the way to James’ parents house; y’all were frozen with horror methinks. Being nervous that you already thought I am a bad driver made me make a stupid decision.

I guess I’m just not one for inspiring confidence in people, even when it’s something I’m normally good at. For example, I like to think I’ve got a pretty good sense of direction. But when I’m with a group of people and we’re all going some place that I know the location of, no one believes me that I know the way.

This confidence/competence thing really shows up when I take on an editing job. Recently, I had a gig editing a cookbook. And it occurs to me that editing is not just correcting stuff (spelling grammar, punctuation), it’s making decisions and recommendations about the text. Pretty heady stuff – and you have to have confidence in order to do it. Hell, correcting shit is easy. You have to stick by your decisions, and defend them if necessary. Also, if someone doesn’t like the decisions you made, too bad. They still have to pay up.

More than just about any other group of professionals, editors like to wring their hands about the need for their services, particularly when it comes to writing for the Web. Just last weekend, the Freelance Writing Jobs blog ran a guest post by Karen G. Anderson asking “Is Copy Editing Extinct?” Does anyone care?

In recent years, I’ve been working as a marketing writer for websites. It’s a different universe. For the best of those sites, people review my copy to make sure it’s logical, accurate, grammatical, and free of obvious spelling errors. For the worst of them, one harried web content producer glances over the copy to make sure it’s beem written in English with complete sentences. There’s never a copy editor. No one notices or cares if various writers working on the site use different styles for serial commas, hyphenation, or dashes. If errors are introduced in the final phase of the reviewing (such as extra words or missing words), the text goes live that way and stays that way, sometimes for weeks, until someone notices.

Is the traditional, stickler copy editor needed in the big Webby world, if only similarly picky editors are the only ones who notice errors? Maybe not. However, asserting that just because every writer now has access to a publishing platform there should be no editors is just plain wrong. Or similarly, that every writer must be their own editor as well. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Writing and editing are two different functions which should not be done at the same time. (I know because my writing brain is constantly being clouded by my editing brain.) And no matter how much you critique your own work, there’s no one quite like an editor for pointing out the things in your blind spots.

Trust me, I’m an editor. And 99.9% of the time, an excellent a good driver too.

Colour me stumped – so I do the nerdiest thing possible: go online and shop for dictionaries. And style guides. Oh my!

In the course of that shopping, I came across this review for the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

This book has got me stumped. Being a huge Webster fan I couldn’t be more disappointed. Not a single picture of my little man. The book doesn’t even talk about him. No pictures – nothing. Not even a mention Alex Karras (George). “Merriam Webster”?? What’s that? Is it like some caveman speak for “Webster’s happy”? And what does he have to be happy about? – he’s surely gets minimal exposure from this publication.

Apart from my initial disappointment this book doesn’t even make sense. I couldn’t follow the plot and trying to read all the many sub-chapters aloud is a futile exercise in alliteration.

Sold. It’s the dictionary review Ed might have written.

I’m having a bit of “Huh?” moment here. On Friday, I have an open book exam in editing and we were told that we can bring in certain references: a dictionary, a style guide, and a “cheat list” that the class brainstormed together on the last day. The purpose of the cheat list is just to remind us of what to look for when we’re going through the editing exercise on the exam.
A classmate was assigned to transcribe the class’s brainstorm and email it to all of us, and we’re allowed to add our own notes to it as well. The kicker? Now the instructor wants us all to come 15 minutes early to the exam so that she can “inspect” our cheat lists.
Whilst freely admitting that there is no way you can really “cheat” on an editing exercise and that this is not to be a memorization test as such, it seems that our dear instructor just can’t let go of her suspicions. Is terminal control freakishness the consequence of choosing the editing profession? The upshot is, if there are any questions I need to cheat in order to answer (i.e. What’s the difference between copyright and trademark? What is “bias”?), I’ll be sure to write them on my thigh and wear a miniskirt like that scary Pat Benatar lookalike girl in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Or just look it up in my dictionary.

Book publishing is a bit like intergalactic anal probing; sometimes you just sit back and ask, “What’s the point of what we do?” We make sure that there are no typos in the book you just paid $19.95 for. We make sure that if the text says to look at Figure 9.2, that there is a Figure 9.2 somewhere nearby. We make sure those monkeys down in production didn’t accidentally set Chapter 6 in Verdana while the rest of the book is in Arial, or that there are no pages with just one word on them and nothing else.
Editing is the invisible cloak over a book; you won’t notice it unless something goes amiss, say, a word like “count” losing a vowel somewhere. Editors, and editorial peons, are certainly blamed when that sort of thing happens.
In most artistic creations – movies, albums – you get credit for being a part of the project, even if you’re not the star. Movies list everyone from the STAAAARS to the negative cutter in roughly the same font when rolling the credits. CDs usually come with a dense page telling who played what, who produced, who mixed, and all the people “we’d like to thank.” Books – in order to be mentioned – you have to be on the author’s radar screen to be thanked. You depend on a person who isn’t there to thank you for making sure their words look good on the page, and helping them not sound like a total jackass.
So what do we have here: no point, no visibility, and no credit. In some circles, being invisible is a mark of power and status; the visible ones are exposed, they have no status. Although I enjoy the invisibility thing, it comes with no compensating perks.
And that would be nice. It’s been a long time since I’ve worked hard for someone, and they’ve said in return, “We like you. You’re good. Here, have some money.”
That would be a much nicer sentence than something like this: “I know we’re not paying you much, but if you find a better-paying thing, you should feel free to take it.” Can you feel the love? In an eerie parallel, my first boyfriend used almost the exact same words to let me know he was still damaged goods from a previous girlfriend and that I should probably steer clear: “If you meet somebody you like, you can go out with them, you know.”
Give up the “no money” line. I have eyes. I see the publisher’s summer house, the owner’s luxury car, the snootful of toys belonging to the publicist. Yes, I am an an editor(ial assistant) and I give you my totally non-standard Gimme! I don’t just live for words; I want some money. I want a moped and a trip to Paris, too.
Give me some money and I’ll knock out every typo, every illogical argument, every research error in my way. I want recognition as the intergalactic anal-probing professional that I am. Spread the love, you purveyors of words, and say it with money.

My eyes are dim, I cannot see, I must always carry my specs with me. In the time I was gone (at least from a blogging POV), I’ve been doing a lot of editing. This profession involves long hours of sitting at a computer, staring at tiny fonts on a screen. So like an old lady, now I make those fonts huge! I think that’s one thing that I really like about Firefox over Explorer – the change font size command actually works. Right now, Firefox is letting me write this post in about 24 point type. It’s fabulous. So what if I’m blind?
Studies have shown that we don’t really read on screen, we scan, because it’s so tiring. I guess thats part of the excuse I can give for being out of this blogging thing for so long – after a long day of reading whole chapters, never mind whole manuscripts, on-screen in order to prepare books for production, the last thing I’ve felt like doing is writing on a computer when I get home.
The other reason I haven’t been writing much – period – is that I feel I’ve lost focus a bit with what I want to blog about, which is books and publishing. And food. Books, publishing, writing, and food. So after some pretty mediocre posts, I wanted to give up altogether.
But I didn’t want to leave you forever, my friends and readers, so as Gordon Ramsay would tell me if he were here, I’m going to get the fuck on with it.

Today, if nothing else, I learned that some grammarians don’t believe that there is a future tense. The concept is really messing with my head. My classmate and I were getting into the philosophy of there being no real future, just one long present. He quoted Kierkegaard, that life can only be lived forwards but only be understood backwards (full quote here.) I responded with the words of David Bowie “Time may change me, but I can’t change time.”
The future may be an illusion. But thanks for sucking the fun out of talking about it, dreaming about it, grammarians. I prefer the last lines of Gatsby:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Take that you nasty negative existentialist grammar nofunniks.

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