Editing As a Profession

For five years, I worked as an editor. It was steady work and enabled me to visit places in the country that I might not otherwise have gone. I treated it as a challenge, find the errors in the author’s manuscript and suggest alternatives to them.

Some writers were quite amiable about my suggestions, others combative. Ultimately, it was their choice and I made no do-or-die stances. Often the errors were glaring (breathe versus breath.) Some authors mixed styles (such as interchanging towards and toward. One is British in usage, the other American. Either is fine, but whatever choice, an author should stick with it throughout his/her work.)

It ruined, somewhat, my reading of fiction. I read a lot, 99% of which was not ready for the major leagues. That may sound arrogant, but I once sent a manuscript back to an author and told him he would be wasting his money with an editor. There was simply too much work to do.

I also have a built-in groan reflex from the job. Take this dragon-breathed sentence: Ryan walked in Crocheron Park, a near flawless emerald in Bayside, Queens, the baby teeth of early fall nipping the new morning, and heard the long cruel silence echo from the baseball field called Valle East — named for Dave Valle, a professional ballplayer who’d swung a mighty Little League bat here in the 1960s.

It is the second sentence of an article on little league. I think. But it is so garbled, so reaching for the fences, the author strikes out. He sees a Pulitzer and whiffs. I have no idea what he is talking about. . . I used to caution my novelists, one metaphor per sentence. Any more and you lose readers. This guy, Denis Hamill uses emeralds and baby teeth in the same sentence. The use of emerald is almost cliché, but the baby teeth is a nice touch. Too bad it is sandwiched between four slices of boloney.

I better stop or you’all will start micro-editing my own work. I always told my authors: it is better to be big than boring. Unless you are a Boer. And then you have your own problems.