Tag Archives: editing

On Strunk and White and Email

The-Elements-of-StyleI read The Elements of Style like a spiritual handbook. It offers both encouragement and instruction, hugs and slaps, that keep my editor’s soul thriving and on the straight and narrow. I’m sure many others feel a similar affection to this book too.

But have you ever read the foreword? I own the 4th edition, which includes a foreword by Roger Angell, E.B. White’s stepson. In the foreword he makes a passing reference to email.

“…the rules-free, lower-case flow that cheerfully keeps us in touch these days.” He then calls it “conversation” (see pages x and xi).

This off-hand comment jumped out at me because I sometimes laugh at myself for how much I edit emails before sending them. Writing an email takes me (seemingly) forever. I often restructure sentences, delete and rewrite whole paragraphs, and revise my opening or closing salutations. I usually type emails in a flurry (which means they’re filled with spelling errors) and then revise them at a snail’s pace.

Despite all of this, my emails are still filled with errors. I am only a wannabe grammarian. Most of my editing is in acquisitions or at the macro level. I am not asked to do true line editing and would most likely be terrible at it. (Indeed, a true grammarian could probably have a field day with this blog post. All I see are the three groaner cliches I’ve used. Can you spot them too?)

Anyway, this passage in the foreword made me smile. Despite my wannabe-grammarian status, I don’t think I could ever email someone a message with only lowercase letters, though I undoubtedly break the rules of grammar all the time.

What about you?


On Max Perkins, via Alton Gansky

Recently I’ve been reading “Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell E. Perkins,” ed. by John Hall Wheelock. Perkins edited books by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and others during his career. His correspondence with literary giants is famous for its insight and congeniality. Modern novelist, Alton Gansky, has written an interesting post about Maxwell Perkins and about innate talent.  Following are the first two paragraphs.

Maxwell Perkins is perhaps the best known editor in the last 100 years. He discovered a couple of authors you may have heard of: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Those twoauthors are great because their work was shepherded by Perkins. He led them, pushed them, encouraged them until they reached their potential. 

Perkins was not a writer (although he spent a fair amount of time as a reporter, something he never equated with literary work) but he could recognize superior writing when no one else could see it. He had to fight and scheme in Scribners to accept young F. Scott. He was so protective of This Side of Paradise he let very few people at the publishers read the work–including copy editors. The first edition of the book hit the shelves with over 100 misspellings. 

Read the whole post here.

Mastering the Author Query

Author queries make me nervous. I’m afraid of offending an author and derailing a project. As an editor, I want to communicate with the heart of a servant and with the “authority” of a skilled professional.

I mean those things. I view my role as one that is chiefly concerned with serving the author. I’m there to help them present their material more clearly. I’m also involved with some level of proficiency. Authors rely on editors to “work their magic” and ensure that the work is logically arranged and grammatically sound.

The author query is an important part of this process. It is the nitty-gritty communication between editors and authors – within the text being edited, no less. Get the queries wrong and the relationship could go south. Hence, my nervousness about them.

Continue reading

On editing your sentences down to size

I was reading the 30th Anniversary Edition of “On Writing Well” today and a certain paragraph jumped out at me. In reference to an example paragraph in the text, William Zinsser writes (p.262):

Each sentence contains one thought – and only one. Readers can process only one idea at a time, and they do it in linear sequence. Much of the trouble that writers get into comes from trying to make one sentence do too much work. Never be afraid to break a long sentence into two short ones, or even three.

I can’t tell you how often I cut sentences down into multiple sentences while editing. Pieces I review will often contain numerous sentences with four or five clauses. Too many clauses make for long sentences. Long sentences lose modern readers. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Often times, nearly everyday, while I’m at work, I edit a piece that would be so much stronger if it had less commas, fewer ideas, and just a few less unnecessary words in general that are, on average, repetitive ideas anyway.

My brain feels tired after a few hours of editing sentences like the above. Are you guilty of writing like this? I am too. I encourage you to look through your current writing project. Find the sentences with too many ideas in them. Edit them down to size.


Work in Progress Challenge

My good friend Bob tagged me with this challenge. It’s fun. I hope you’ll pick up the mantle and run with it too. If you do, be sure to link to your post in the comments below. I’d love to read about your work in progress.

1. What is the title of your book/WIP?

On the blog I’ve been calling it “the goblin project“.

2. Where did the idea for the WIP come from?

The goblin project is a quest story. So any stories about heroes going on quests I’ve read, including Tolkien’s famous books, have probably helped inspire this book. Also (and this may sound stupid to some of you) fantasy based games like “Shadows Over Camelot” or “Magic: The Gathering” have inspired different elements of the story too.

3. What genre would your WIP fall under?

Fantasy. Goblins, knights, dragons, dark and scary forests, and a few other classic fantasy tropes are all involved.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Since the main character is a goblin it’s sort of hard to imagine. I guess I’d pick the guy who played R2D2 and stick him in a goblin suit….just because he was so awesome as R2D2!

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your WIP?

A young goblin attempts to save his people from a tyrant sorcerer by chasing an unbelievable legend across the countryside with failed knight and rogue jinn.

6. Is your WIP published or represented?

Nope. It’s still officially a WIP.

7. How long did it take you to write?

I wrote the first draft during the 2011 3-Day Novel Contest. I was not an official contestant that year, but wrote my within the contest format just because it’s a ton of fun to write that way. I’m revising it now (sporadically) and that has taken months.

8. What other WIPs within your genre would you compare it to?

I have no idea. I don’t know anyone else who is writing in quite the same genre. My buddy Bob is also a fantasy writer, but his book is not quite in the same vein.

9. Which authors inspired you to write this WIP?

Tolkien, of course. My favorite writer, Ray Bradbury, played no small part. Others I’ve read along the way have contributed to my love of storytelling too: Lewis, L’Engle, Maugham, Gaiman. And comic book authors too, like: Loeb, Johns, and Waid.

10. Tell us anything else that might pique our interest in this project.

One of my favorite characters in the book is a failed knight named, “Ardy.” My nickname is “Andy.” Our names are not our only similarities. ;-)


Tag, you’re it! Take up the Work In Progress Challenge and let me know about your book. If you do, don’t forget to send me a link in the comments below.

Ardy Andy

Everything you ever wanted to know about book publishing

The following is a series of posts I wrote for Zondervan on a company blog. It’s a series of posts on the publishing process. I post something new in this series every Friday. I’ll keep this list updated as new posts are published.

A “very” different way to edit your manuscript

Strunk and WhiteIt’s been a couple of months since I’ve spent any time with the goblin project. In an effort to help get myself back into the story I decided to turn to those two literary Yodas so many great writers have referenced before: Strunk & White. I pulled out my copy of The Elements of Style and turned to page 63 where it reads:

Very: Use this word sparingly. Where emphasis is necessary, use words strong in themselves.

Then I pulled up my manuscript and searched for “very.” It brought up about 75 results. (Keep in mind my manuscript is approximately 31,000 words at this point.) More than half of those results were the word “every” used in various contexts.

I went through all of the other results one by one and decided whether or not I should leave the sentence as written or change it. I changed nearly every sentence and almost 100% of the time I deleted the word “very.” The only sentences I left “very” in were sentences of dialogue. It sounds right to have my characters saying things like, “I’m not very good at this.”

I recommend trying this on your own manuscript. It was fun. It didn’t take me too long, and I think I strengthened many of the sentences throughout my story. It was also an easy way for me to familiarize myself with the story again.

Thank you Strunk and White.