Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Just call me picky word diva

I’m working my way through the copy edits Sourcebooks gave me for MAKING WAVES. It’s a process that’s surprising me in some ways.

When the production editor sent the document last week, she included a note saying I’m not obligated to make any of the edits. “I’ll accept your changes over what the copy editor changed or suggested,” she explained.

I did a quick skim of the manuscript and laughed. The changes seemed tiny. Little bitty switches from one word to another, nothing I minded in the least.

Or did I?

As soon as I sat down and dug in, I found I minded a lot more than I realized.

I’ll give you a couple examples with the caveat that I don’t want to launch a discussion of “right” or “wrong” or “that copy editor couldn’t find her semi-colon with both hands and a flashlight.” I adore the copy editor, whoever he/she is, and think most of the suggestions are spot-on. I plan to accept the vast majority of them and would probably offer a hug and a noogie if we ever met in person.

But a couple stylistic changes rubbed me the wrong way (no small feat considering I’m a fan of most kinds of rubbing). In these examples, the blue text is what I wrote originally. The red is the word added by the copy editor:

He glanced at something in his lap, then punched some numbers on a gadget beside him. Beautiful hands, Juli thought, then she shivered at the memory of those hands all over her body.

Here’s another example:

Behind him, Jake went back to muttering. “Damn woman’s going to ruin us.”

“Probably,” Alex said, and he tried not to look forward to it.

It’s the same sort of addition in both examples, and I’m sure there’s a reason for the suggestion.

But there’s also a reason I wrote the sentence the way I did, which is the same reason I’m not accepting the change. I don't want the he or the she in those spots. I want the words to flow a certain way. I like the brevity of the original with its casual, folksy cadence.

The funny thing is, there was no point in the writing of MAKING WAVES where I made a conscious decision to exclude the she or he in those sentences. I didn’t consult a grammar guide or sit with a quivering finger poised over the keyboard wrestling with this monumental decision.

Yet I find it really does matter to me. As much as I don’t fancy myself a word diva, I probably am. It’s the reason you’ll never, ever catch me blogging if I’ve had anything to drink.

That thud I just heard was probably half of you hitting the floor, but it’s true. I’ve written plenty of words after a glass or twelve of wine, but I’ll never set a blog post to go live until I’ve read it with 110% sober vision. I like making deliberate word choices with anything that will have hundreds of eyes on it. That sort of deliberateness doesn’t always happen with a glass of Chianti beside me.

How choosy are you about word selection? Do you find yourself nit-picking other people’s writing differently than your own? Please share.

And please share your wine, while you're at it. Now that this post is written, I'm free to imbibe.


Vicki Smallwood said...

It's funny - I'm always harsher on myself when I'm writing a book's summary/teaser than when I'm writing my review of it. Since I'm not copying/pasting the original jacket summary, I feel it's my responsibility to offer something as engaging, as enticing as I can possibly write. However, once I get to my feelings on the book, I just let the words flow and hardly do any backspacing or word changes. I'd never really thought of it before now...

But as for writing a story, something that other people are going to read and draw from - showing not telling - I'm extremely picky/anal about the style and word-choice. To the point that I'm still struggling to turn off my inner editor and just move on.

Sarah W said...

I completely agree: cadence and word choice are crucial. Awkward sentences are like potholes - they jolt the reader out of the story.

I wonder if blogging while sleep-deprived is the same as blogging while tipsy? Because I'm guilty of that almost every day.

Unknown said...

Adding those pronouns changed the flow of the sentences which means it altered your voice. One of the reasons Sourcebooks contracted the books was because of your writer's voice.

I feel the same way you do. While I don't agonize over specific words (most of the time) I do think there is something specific about my style that can't, and shouldn't, be micromanaged by a copy editor, no matter how well meaning.

Liana Brooks said...

Those are little changes, but changing them changes the style to much. I prefer the sentences as you wrote them.

I'm very picky about word choice and cadence. There are several well-selling authors whose cadence drives me batty. I just can't read without wanting to edit.

Danica Avet said...

I'm actually the same way, Tawna. As crazy as it sounds, there is a method to my madness and most of the time, I will write and rewrite a sentence until it feels right. It may be a fragment, it may not be grammatically correct, but there's a reason for it whether it's to emphasize an emotion or humor.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I never considered myself a word diva, but now that I've read this post, maybe I am more of one that I thought. . . LOL

It's okay, though. We have a certain style/voice to our writing. I do nit-pick other people's writing differently than my own because I'm not so close to it. And, I always put, "these are suggestions only, stay true to your voice." because if I suggest a different way to write something, I might be messing with the writer's voice.

Now, there's a difference if the sentence is just passive or telling or something. Then, yeah, they need to fix it, but fix it in their voice, not mine. You know?

Great post.
Happy Tuesday.

Matthew MacNish said...

I think it was Good Old Willy Faulkner who said: Write Drunk, Edit Sober. And I think you have a point. Admittedly, I've written blog posts when I was a little tipsy, but I do try to check in the morning to make sure the "inspiration" was actually at least half as clever as I thought it was at the time.

Patty Blount said...

Interestingly enough, this occurs more frequently in my technical writing day job than in my fiction endeavors.

I am often asked to change "after" to "once" - For example, ONCE installation completes, configure the host."

I think AFTER is more accurate. ONCE implies a quantity - in other words, you'll configure the host only once. This is not always true and I have frequent arguments with my development team over the rather minor differences in certain word choices.

Makes me worry that my copy editors are going to throw darts at the new pictures I just had taken...:)

German Chocolate Betty said...

I agree totally with you -- and personally like the flow better as you wrote it. Added the pronouns doesn't clarify anything (always a good reason to add 'em), as there is no way that there is going to be a misunderstanding. So -- why the unnecessary redundancy.

I am also a word diva, and will scratch to the death the folks who try to muck around in such things. I have the trouble that my stuff is often edited by non-native speakers, and I have to go into long explanations as to WHY it's OKAY to leave it as I've written it. (Of course, that means I have to have a good reason to do it just that way and not some other way...) It's really fun when it's an idiomatic, "non-standard" formulation... Sometimes the explanations get mighty long and drawn out! And sometimes there are web searches involved. And consultations with dictionaries...!

But hang in there -- there are worse things than being a diva!

Delia said...

Does that make you a diva? I thought it just made you a writer. It's all about word choice, isn't it?

Anyway, glad you're not leaving those pronouns there. They interrupt the flow.

Linda G. said...

I guess I'm a word diva, too. Oh, boy! I've always wanted to be a diva about something, and since I can't sing... :)

Cat Moleski said...

I'm with you. I liked your sentences the way you wrote them. I never thought I'd be picky about word choices, but I do edit others' words in my mind as I read. So I guess when I am in the fortunate position to have copy edits, I won't accept them all. Good to know. Thanks for the peek into your world.

Sierra Godfrey said...

I guess I don't know what I would do if I were in your shoes....although I would probably start off a lot like you did: with the intention of accepting most of the changes.

What's interesting to me here is how it does start bothering you after a while. Inserting those words or omitting them doesn't make a heck of a lot of difference in the grand scheme, but I presume you left them out because that is the way you write. Or maybe, like most writers, you're trying to adhere to the "say more with less" principle that is drilled in our heads.

I guess I'd want to know what the copyeditor's reasoning was in case she/he knew something I didn't? And then not accept the changes because as someone pointed out, it does change the flow and your voice.

Tatum Flynn said...

I think an integral part of being a good writer is your word choice, sentence structure and cadence. This reminds me of the Oscar Wilde quote about writing a poem "I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again." :)

Jennie Englund said...

I like it your way.

Jan Markley said...

Word choice is important especially if it changes the voice of the piece.

Nate Wilson said...

I sometimes take more time to ponder the wording of a comment than I suspect the blogger took to write the post I'm commenting on. Which is to say: Yes, I am picky.

Yet, if I'm providing feedback on someone else's work, I tend to be more lenient. And if I'm reading a book by a popular published author, I'm more harsh. It's all relative.

This comment took me 21 minutes to write. (I may or may not be kidding.)

lora96 said...

Definitely the blue text--better flow. I found the added pronouns disruptive.

Never mind for a moment that I objected to reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in my classroom a few years ago, not only because I feel that "under God" establishes a religion but also because those two words--a later addition--kill the rhythm of the whole chant. As a listener and speaker I would object to the insertion of any three extra syllables in the middle of any poem, corrupting its original tone. Ooh, I'm on my soapbox, way up high so the people look like tiny tiny ants. Better get down now. :)

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

I've had similar experiences with my copy editor. Whenever I'm uncomfortable with the change, I say something. It's great that you have such a wonderful working relationship that you feel you can correct suggestions you don't like.

Go ahead and be word picky. That's what our job is, isn't? ;)

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I do tend to be choosy about word selection. I think it has something to do with being a writing teacher, because a large part of my job requires me to pay attention to word choice and sentence structure. Not to mention several of my students often try to use big words to impress me. :)
But I think that if the word choice doesn't feel right to you, then it's your right to stick with the words you originally chose.


Vicki, may I suggest wine or #1k1hr for shutting off that internal editor?!

Sarah, I've definitely been sleep deprived enough that I forced myself to step away from the computer and leave the blog alone.

Jeannie, one thing I love about Sourcebooks is that my editor made a note to the copy editor saying nothing could be changed that would impact the voice. Gotta love that!

Liana, glad you prefer the original!

Danica, hooray for the meaningful fragment!

lynnrush, you're right, there are definitely instances where something is just plain grammatically wrong and there's no reason NOT to fix it. Been known to do that myself a time or two :)

Matthew, I've seen that quote attributed to Hemingway, too! Don't you wonder who (if anyone) actually said it?

Patty, gah! I definitely don't miss that aspect of the tech writing world!

German Chocolate Betty, I had a German boss once who looooved to edit things that didn't adhere to his very strict idea of how the English language should flow.

Delia, good point -- diva, writer, kinda the same thing sometimes!

Linda G, shall we parade around in our diva feather boas next week?!

Cat, I think it can vary from publisher to publisher whether you're allowed to override copy edits or not. I'm thankful these guys seem so willing to give me veto power.

Sierra, oh, I'm not wrestling with the decision at all. I know I won't accept the changes (not those ones, anyway). The other 99% I will.

Girl Friday, love that quote!

Jennie, thanks, me too!

Jan, agreed!

Nate, been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.

lora96, you look lovely up there on your soapbox, my dear!

Kathi, I definitely feel lucky to be working with a group that gives me so much say in how my work is edited!

Neurotic Workaholic, so you're neurotic about word choice as well as work? :)

Thanks for reading, guys!

lahn said...

I think I must be a word diva too. The cadence does matter, and I find that I can read the same sentence over 10 times or more, switching a word or two each time, to get it right. If my kids are around, they will say, "Mom, you just READ that." Ha! They'll be word divas too one day -- it's in their genes.