Thursday, June 28, 2012

Watch Your Speed

Tell someone you write for a living and their eyes take on a certain sparkle. As if all of us who push words around do so at the level of a Stephen King or that gal who foisted Carrie Bradshaw onto the world and made it impossible to buy a pair of Manolos on sale, when in reality writers are more or less the vocational equivalent of a Comic-Con computer nerd living in mom and dad's basement, only on occasion someone actually sends us a paycheck and no one shoves food under the door. (Yet.)

Tell them you are also an editor, though, and the sparkle dulls and they start fidgeting and mumbling about having left a bunch of wet clothes in the dryer. Now, you're really a nerd.

Hey, I get it. Writers create. They make things happen on the page that no one else ever thought of before or if they did think of it, it wasn't in quite that way. And then editors come along with their big red pencils and Cheetos-stained fingers and spoil all the fun, regardless of the fact that editors and writers need each other like oil needs vinegar and wings need wind, even if it all ends up so very Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Not to mention that whenever anything goes horribly wrong, it's the editor who takes the fall. I recently took a big one, part of a triad of FUBAR-esque ineptitude formed when the writer, my copy editor, and I neglected to pay full attention. No sauce to go with that crow.

Nor with the one I ate a couple years ago, a fork-up I will share with you because it perfectly illustrates how mistakes are very often the result of the complex wiring of the human brain, which, were I superstitious, I'd believe has a separate will of its own.

I was assigning a series of stories on a regional magazine for which I have served as editor for five years. One of them a profile on a local business person and community advocate. The publisher gave me the gal's name: Casey.

"What's her last name?" I asked.

The publisher frowned slightly and then replied, "I don't know. Jones?"

Not realizing she was being flippant, I sent the writer her contract, outlining that she would be interviewing a Ms. Casey Jones. The writer in this case was not a newbie, but the former editor of an award-winning city weekly. Which means, like any writer worth the paper their degree is printed on, they know to always, always, check the correct spellings of any names used in a story.

Writer writes story, sends to me before deadline, and I edit, noticing that subject's name is, indeed, Casey Jones.

Issue comes out. Two days later, I receive a call from a very irate Casey . . . something else. Who yells at me, "How on earth did you all get my name wrong? I told the writer several times!"

Yes, but did you tell her brain?


Buzz Kill said...

mmmm...cheetos. I make unintentional name mistakes all the time. Just this week we had to respond to a person whose first name was Farrin. Guy..girl..what do you think? We guessed Mr. Farrin and were, of course - wrong. Make a self-depricating joke out of it and all is forgiven.

Manolos are shoes, right? See, I pay attention.

LẌ said...

I was a Technical Writer for electronic service manuals for 20 years. I can report that, sadly, there were no groupies or prestige.

The biggest factual challenge was when the engineers would change the product after the manuals were printed and we would have to scramble to get an errata sheet in the box in time for shipment.

Jenny said...

A friend used to run an ad agency - they wrote an award winning letter (his words)to put with a huge mailing they were doing. While the night shift was printing th they somehow lost the original so they "fixed" it themselves; letter went out with the client's name mis spelled and many of other errors that no amount of apologies could fix.

YOU know how bad I am with names. Remember the spa? EEEEK.

Oh hai LX and Buzz.

czar said...

Funny. Your humble correspondent just ate some Cheetos and is now chewing on a red pen. Where's that surveillance camera?

czar said...

PS: I had writer/editor friend who used to tell people he was a fireman. No explanation necessary, but I guess he could still get a little adulation.

moi said...

Buzz: I wish parents would spare the world a headache and quite coming up with all these kreative names.

lx: Having just completed a book for a whole bunch of engineers I can say with total confidence that A: they are anal and B. they love to change stuff. As for groupies, I don't even think SCREENwriters have them. 'Tis a thankless job.

Boxer: I think your story tops just about everything I've experienced or heard of so far. Although, if you visit Czar's blog, you'll see a doozie.

Czar: Go figure. I was just about to play some jazz. Unearthed the parental units' original pressing of It's kind of groovy . . . hey, I'm trying.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but did you tell her brain?

This seems to happen all the time with my consultants, therefore, when I hang up from a long conversation including instructions, I immediately send an email reiterating all the important points. Then, I only need to do half the volume of editing out of things that are wrong...

The brain hears what it wants, including preconceived notions that are being refuted during a conversation. "I would have sworn you said..."

You have a challenging job, Moi


Sharon Rudd said...

Sometimes when not rushed in the law biz, I catch misspellings, etc. my attorneys are grateful for. They finally appreciate me. Or not. #joysofbeingdownsized

czar said...

@Moi: You were just about to do what??? Good God, do you think the Supreme Court's decision means the apocalypse? Why else would you take such a drastic step.

Everything's gonna be fine, Moi. And if that jazz door ever kicks slightly open, I can give you the starter course.

Aunty Belle said...

*quite* coming up with all these kreative names.

heh's so easy to see why ccccopy editors are heroes.

moi said...

Serendipity: My "hearing" was partly to blame for my recent FUBARedness.

Intuitive Eggplant: An extra set of eyes is always appreciated as far as I'm concerned! Good on ya for giving things that kind of attention.

Czar: Don't get me started about the travesty of justice that was today's Supreme Dolt Decision. But, no I didn't dig out Davis as my swan song. It's just kind of 60s swank, is all. But before you get your hopes up, it's unlikely it will make me a true believer.

Aunty: Ya see! Obviously, I need a vacation.

Aunty Belle said...

Yep--but I see it more often in mah own scribbles, an' always wonder, "How did THAT git thar'?"

moi said...

Aunty: Usually, I like at least 24 hours between when I finish writing something and when I proof it to send in. Often, I don't get that luxury. So, all hail the copy editor—and I've worked with really good ones (Czar, for instance). I do some copy editing for certain clients, but it's not what I enjoy most. I'd rather edit—work with writers to hone a piece to as close as perfect as it's possible to get. And then let a true blue copy editor take it from there. On this particular project I'm on now, that's what I do, although I do go over everything behind the CE before blue line and after. And STILL we missed some errors.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, 24 hours is good. Longer is better. I find I "see" how it is supposed to be, not necessarily what is really there if it is not long enough to forget what I "wrote" but actually didn't.


moi said...

Serendipity: The brain does tend to see what it wants to see, doesn't it. I once read—and I have no idea if this is scientifically accurate—that it takes the mind about 24 hours to reset from what it knows it is supposed to see.

Karl said...

Good afternoon Moi,

A long time ago, I wrote a chapter for a FM-XXX. The funding was cut, they decided they didn't need it. Several months ago, I ran into the project coordinator at a conference. "Oh yeah we got refunded. And published in 2003. We used your chapter." When I found it and read it. The text was largely intact. However the punctuation bore little resemblance to what I remember.

One of my favorite uses of a comma is in the phrase:

Eats shoots, and leaves.

Eats, shoots and leaves.

I'll take the latter, thank you.

Enjoy your weekend.

czar said...

@Karl (and everybody): another interesting comma application. Sorry if you've seen this one:

pam said...

I would love to do what you do. I think I would be good at it. I'm a kick right now of saving little headlines with mis-placed modifiers. Mainly because I think the news media sucks in general and this is my proof to myself. We all make those mistakes like you talk about here. But how fun would it be to write those cool UK tabloid headlines?! That's another job I'd love to have. Oh, and location scout for The Amazing Race.

Karl said...

@ Czar: Good one. It's the first time I have seen it. Leaves a lasting impression.

moi said...

Karl: I agree. I'm not much for shoots as a noun.

Czar: That's priceless. I need it on a t-shirt. Or is that tee shirt?

Pam: It's never too late to be what you might have been :o) I dread writing headlines—I'm terrible at it. But it's an important job. So much so that at some publications, it's a separate job in and of itself. And, yes, the Brits are awfully good at it.

fishy said...

This is sort of the other side of the stories I have heard from Blowfish for years. As a publications designer/art director he tells stories of the editorial changing with a failure to notify the art department. It's apparently the height of embarrassment to have a headline for a story which did not make the cut remain on the cover.

@ Karl
I gave up on punctuation long ago.
I just leave folks to struggle along with my run on sentences. I'm actually afraid of people like Czar.

czar said...

@Moi: T-shirt. You knew that.

@Fishy: You can't imagine how entirely harmless I am, especially compared to this crowd. A red pen doesn't mean much at 20 paces. And I'm a damn slow runner.

czar said...

@Pam: You need to check out a book of great New York Post headlines. The title of the book is one of the headlines: Headless Body in Topless Bar: The Best Headlines from America's Favorite Newspaper.

moi said...

Fishy: Art directors and editors are often at loggerheads. One problem I have is that the art directors at all three magazines I edit are in charge of making the correx. But their brains are wired for images, not words, and I'm very often still marking corrections I found on first proofs on thirds. Doesn't matter what I do—I can send word documents, Sticky Note a PDF, I'd say the AD misses a good third of them. At one mag, policy is that after entire mag is set and ads placed, CE sits at the computer with AD and reads final changes off to her, one at a time, checks the screen, and then checks printouts. It's a clunky, imperfect system. Not to mention expensive for the publisher.

Czar: Yes, I knew that. But I will always, always want it to be tee. Just like I will forever stick up for grey.