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.