Bad habits when an editor turns to writing

Bad habits when an editor turns to writing

When I saw the theme of the week for “This Blogger Life” — bad habits — I almost chickened out. What bad habits do I want to admit to publicly? What bad habits of mine do you want to read about? They might be the same things… but then again, that’s not likely.

So I kept thinking. I decided that the interesting bad habits that I have that other bloggers don’t may be related to my early career as a copyeditor.

When I started out, editing news releases other people had typed into a computer, I was spending the day reading little green letters (and other little green dots) on a black screen. The first e-mails I ever had were announced by that computer system’s MESSAGE PENDING field flashing in my eyes. There was a computer room — a very cold one, with servers that looked like something out of the Apollo space program.

Spell-check was something I did, not something I had. In fact, when I missed a typo and a client called about it, I dreaded being asked “Don’t you have spell-check?” I finally got the nerve to say “Speaking!” when I knew and liked a client very well, and that got the point across.

So I’m still very careful about my own spelling and typing. I’m even careful about paragraphs and structure.

I can just hear you thinking “But this is supposed to be about BAD habits!” (Yes, one of my bad habits is assuming things.)

Now that I’m spending more time writing than editing, with both this blog and my detective story, I have some bad habits I wish I could get away from. (There’s progress on one — I didn’t make it the over-formal “from which I wish I could get away.” Like Sir Winston Churchill, That’s the sort of thing up with which I will not put.)

I have notebooks filling up with ideas for my book. I have filled one and a half notebooks since July with ideas for blog posts. But not everything gets out into the world. Sometimes I think it isn’t good enough. Sometimes I think of an event or scene for the novel, but I haven’t decided how the characters need to get there. So the rough draft sits around a while.

I’m living dangerously, typing this as a single draft and editing it as I go. For the book, I don’t let anyone read it until it’s at least a third draft… and that can mean editing year-old material and trying to figure out what in the world I meant by it.

I’ve seen how-to books that describe “your inner editor” and how to work with her. Well, mine was a good employee for a lot of years, out there defending words credibly as a full-time job. So I have to get away from her bad habits of saying “It’s not good enough” or “It’s not interesting/long/special enough” and use her good habit of saying “Hey, get to work! Get writing!”

For more fun with words, stop by the Margaret Serious page on Facebook.

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Filed under: This Blogger Life


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  • I remember when it was a big advance to go from little slips of paper, sometimes with real cut and paste on them (very hard to write on the Scotch tape) to Wang computers. There was also the debate whether green or amber screens were better. Windows 3.0 and Word 95 were real game changers. Also we had to do a proofread (until about 2000) on either photocomposition layouts or printed signatures. pdfs sure changed that. At least I came in after the print department quit storing lead slugs.

    However, due to the technical nature of the work, the copy readers (later designated copy editors, then editors) were not allowed to change words, just tag them. I see that autocorrect and the blue squiggle lines in Word sometime make similar mistakes. At least, though, some editor caught Pubic I used instead of Public in a header. That would have been real embarrassing for about 120 pages.

  • Yes, I, too, found such a typo working as a proofreader for a law firm. You can imagine how "Initial Public Offering" would have looked with that mistake.....

  • Thank you both for memories of a typo of which I once lived in fear. The only one that came near it was confusing "united" and "untied." Everything from countries to airlines could be ruined there.

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