Monday, February 17, 2014

Editor's Notes #9: Obi-Lorn, the Editor's Editor


Wouldn't it be wonderful if we knew what to do in every circumstance? To be sure-footed and confident in our chosen arena. To march forward without hesitation. To boldly go where no man has gone before.

Unfortunately, it's not always easy to be 100% correct 100% of the time. One might even say—accurately—that it's impossible.


As a copy editor, I have knowledge and a slew of guide books at my fingertips. When all that comes up short, however, I have my own editing guru to turn to. I affectionately refer to her as "Obi-Lorn" (shortened from the longer "Obi-Wan, Advisor to the Grammar-Lorn"). In a community online where just about anyone who loves to read will offer to "edit" a book, she offered a test she'd designed for "wannabe" editors, to sift the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Her idea was to see if there were any editors out there she could feel comfortable recommending when people asked. I had just started editing and wanted to see if I had the skills I thought I had, so I contacted her and took the test.

I failed. Big time.


That test was one of the most difficult tests I've ever taken. It was tricky, all right. There were the usual suspects, like misspelled words and misused homophones. There was misplaced punctuation. Not a big deal. I stepped up to the laptop with the confidence of the ignorant . . . and slunk away from it with the humility of the enlightened. Have you ever heard the phrase, "The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know"? It's a paraphrase of something Socrates supposedly said long ago, but the basic premise holds true. I had no idea what I was getting into and not only learned new things, but learned a lot about how much I still had to learn.

The test was long, which I'd expected, but it was hard, hard, hard. There were some sentences, of course, that had no errors, so by the time I'd gotten halfway through, I was second-guessing myself all over the place. Only the most obvious rules were cemented in my mind: a period goes at the end of a statement; every sentence starts with a capital letter. Everything other than that was a huge question mark in my mind after a bit, much like trying to find one's way out of a house of mirrors after being sure of the path going in.

The best part about the test was that it didn't crush me. Oh, I was emotionally tender at the results, but realized my reaction was one of embarrassment more than anything. Bruised pride is worse than bruised flesh, in my opinion. Obi didn't gloat at my awful results; she genuinely seemed to feel bad about failing me, and gave me a list of resource books to begin acquiring as well as an offer of help, anytime, if I had questions.


I got those books and I studied them. Through the studies, I came to realize I would have done much better on the test if I'd had the resources available beforehand. Most of the answers were easily found, if only I'd had the right tools for the job and knew how to use them. Studying helps, because I don't have to look up as many things as I used to. Editing more helps, because the rules are fresh in my mind. Every once in awhile, though, I come across something I can't figure out. 

Obi-Lorn to the rescue.


Obi is just an email away when I'm stumped and can't find my answer in the resources I have handy. I trust her years of experience, and not only does she give me answers, she shows me where to find them next time, and why they make sense. She takes every opportunity to teach on the surface level of my immediate question while also taking the instruction deeper, explaining why something works or doesn't, and telling me what to look for in tiny details I might otherwise miss. She's a faithful instructor who genuinely has my best interests at heart. 

Some time ago, Obi contacted me regarding a post I'd made on Goodreads, showing the sentence in question and asking, "Can you tell me what is wrong with this sentence?" After assuring her that some uneducated hack was using my name to post poorly constructed sentences*, I let her know what I thought was wrong with it. Got it on the first try, thank you very much. Well . . . technically on the second try, since my first try was the original post. Some may think that type of email would be insulting and picky—I mean, really! It's just a post on a Goodreads thread. However, she knows I try very hard to make sure my posts are error-free because my credibility as an editor would be damaged if I didn't take the time to look over my own comments. She saw this as an opportunity for gentle instruction (or "whacking" me with a test across the internet, as she calls it) and I was glad for it. Things like that keep me on my toes. I'm supposed to be on my toes; I get paid to notice each word. 


Everyone needs help now and again. I'm glad I have Obi-Lorn to gently keep my grey cells where they belong.


*If you really want to know what I wrote, here it is:

"As self-published authors, there is no deadline but your own and no reason to rush, other than your own excitement over having written a book."

It should have read:

"As self-published authors, you have no deadline but your own . . ."

Subtle? Yes. But the bottom line is the same. One is wrong. The other is not.


19 comments:

  1. It's great to have a consultant. Mine is my daughter, The Hurricane. I taught her how to edit when she was growing up, and now if I can't find an answer online or in a book, she can tell me. While she gets her Ph.D. in math, she edits technical papers part time. I always say, Aren't you glad Mommy taught you to edit? She has surpassed me in knowledge, and I'm proud of it.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. I love the fact that your daughter is called The Hurricane. And I've got to say that doesn't surprise me a bit.

      My kids might not be spectacular at self-editing, but they're not bad, and it drives them insane to read some of their peers' posts on FB or other places. At least they recognize bad writing when they see it; that's half the battle.

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    2. She hasn't always been a Hurricane. Long ago, she was merely a Storm Cloud. Then she deepened into a Tropical Depression. Now she whirls and twirls and shakes up every room she enters.

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  2. Oooh a test! I'm staying far, far away from that test...
    Thank goodness I have you, and in turn your Obi-Lorn, as my back up lol

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    1. I DEFINITELY have your back. No worries!

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  3. I think I'm pretty good at catching these things, but I missed that one. I'm glad you showed us the corrected version!

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    1. I can catch that type of stuff for others, but for myself? Ugh. Even for blog posts and comment threads, I have to read them over and over (and I ask a friend to read my blog posts before I publish). There's always something. It's always the little things!

      Thanks for visiting and commenting. Come back anytime!

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  4. It is a hard lesson, finding out how little we know! But there's also something wonderful about the learning, and so nice to have a guru handy!

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    1. The sad thing about this was that of all the people who took this test, I was the only one who came back to ask how I could learn more. She said so many people were resentful or actually hostile that my attitude made her want to help me as much as she could. The resources she provided are invaluable tools in my editing arsenal now.

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  5. English is a tricky language especially for non-native speakers like me.I am glad you found a Guru, thanks to your humility and the urge to learn :)

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    1. When I traveled to Turkey a handful of years ago, I was embarrassed that I only spoke one language. Almost everyone we ran into spoke at least their own language plus English and German. Sometimes French as well. I'm always impressed when people write in English and it appears to be their first language but isn't. I can't even manage my own, much less another! :) For what it's worth, English is a mess of a language, even to native speakers.

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  6. Ooh! I will not even think of taking up that test in my wildest dreams. It's wonderful that you found a great teacher to help, support and hone your editing skills, Lynda.
    PS : I am wondering how many errors are there in this comment of mine :D

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    1. I always figure social media comments deserve some grace, as far as grammar or spelling, since so many people comment from their phones. My autocorrect is out to get me!

      I try my best to continue self-educating, because I feel that's how I help my clients best.

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  7. Oh! I see myself learning so much each day and yet there much more still to learn. I loved the fact that you gave the sentence you wrote on Goodreads and the error itself. I would have missed it :( Need to study more, I find myself self-editing more and more these days but still am unsure at times.

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    1. The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know, haha! I do find myself noticing more and more things I might have glossed over in previous years, so at least I must be learning something.

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  8. I love the line, "she was merciless in the kindest way." That's what I want too. It's great that you have a guru.

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    1. It's so much easier to swallow when we know the intent of criticism/critique isn't malicious and self-serving.

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  9. I definitely don't consider myself an editor, but I've done a bit of work for people who needed help. It's an arduous, thankless task that doesn't always make people happy, so thank you very much for being willing to do it.

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    1. I kind of like having my ducks in a row with things that are tangible, so editing is (usually) enjoyable to me. You're right, though: it doesn't always make people happy. And you're welcome! It's nice to be thanked.

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