I’M RUINED: CONFESSIONS OF AN EDITOR
David C. Hughes
“There are two typos of people in this world: those who can edit, and those who can’t.”
― Jarod Kintz
I’m ruined as a reader. Absolutely ruined. I edit everything, and when I say everything, I mean everything! Not only books, articles, and blog posts, but billboards, construction signs, and advertising splashed across panel trucks can’t escape my squinted eyes or furrowed brow. Last Christmas Mary and I exchanged T-shirts as gifts. The one I gave to her declares, “Those who can, TEACH. Those who can’t, pass laws about teaching.” It matches her attitude, her gift of sarcasm, and her calling to homeschool our daughter. The T-shirt Mary boxed, wrapped, and placed under the tree for me says, “Grammar Police: To correct and to serve.” Yep, that’s me to a T. Shirt.
Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy reading. A lot. I’ve loved to read ever since my dad taught me how when I was four, and reading definitely played into my passion and desire to write. I remember sitting next to Dad on the avocado green vinyl couch, his arm around my shoulder as I read story after story out of a children’s encyclopedia and activity book. He guided me with patience, corrected me with gentleness, encouraged me with love, and I never quit. Even now, at any given time, I’ve got three or four books started, and when I finish one I’ll start another right away without having finished any of the others.
But over the years my perfectionism, developed as a child and honed as an adult, has resulted in my looking at life in hard binary rather than in fuzzy logic. My formal education in electrical engineering and the resulting corporate career spanning almost three decades did nothing but sharpen the edge of the critical sword I wield with relish, and over the years I’ve found a certain pleasure in tearing apart (and putting back together, of course) other people’s documentation. I can relate to the spirit of reconstruction after war: my hope is that the end result is better than the original. In the meantime, let’s blow up things. As my reputation as an effective technical editor grew, one of my coworkers started to use me as a weapon: “If you don’t get this document right this time,” he’d tell our suppliers, “I’ll sic Dave Hughes on you.” Nine times out of ten the engineering writers complied. I exist to serve.
Editing definitely plays to the “J” in my Myers-Briggs assessment. One time a friend of Mary told her she admired my non-judgmental attitude; I think I spewed water out of my nose as I choked on the irony of that statement. As a Spiritual gift, mercy languishes under the weight of the other gifts in my heart, barely able to raise its head off the floor let alone stand and deliver. Just ask my daughter. Don’t get me wrong, though: when it comes to people I try really hard to be Christ-like, accepting, loving, and forgiving. But when it comes to people’s actions, or more specifically, their writing, I’m more like Saul of Tarsus before God smote him on the road to Damascus; I make a good editorial Pharisee. You need to have thick skin to hire me as your editor, but I guarantee that if you stick with me as I drain my red pen all over your manuscript you’ll love the results.
As I said, though, I’m ruined as a reader. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ll put a book down (or hurl it across the room) based not only on the story but on the sheer number of editorial mistakes it contains. Like a field of burdocks it’s hard to get past these errors without them clawing at me, and if I do manage to continue, they cling to me until I finally give up, bury my head in a pillow, and scream. Recently I ground to a halt reading a new release by a New York Times #1 bestselling team of authors; much to my grievous disappointment, I couldn’t go on. Just couldn’t. Good thing I picked the book up from the bargain bin. Hmm, maybe that’s why I found it in the bargain bin. And it seems with the advent of self-publishing the number of books smacking my bedroom wall has grown geometrically if not exponentially.
I’m a chronic sign-reader, and Mary wonders how I haven’t gotten into more accidents because I seem to pay more attention to the billboards than to the road. On a drive to the Dallas-Fort Worth mid-cities one day I noticed a bright orange construction sign glaring at me from the side of the road: “Caution Low Clearence.” Ugh! Use a stinkin’ dictionary, for goodness sake! Or Spellcheck! Another day, on my way to DFW Airport, I read a large billboard advertising a hotel chain: “’This place is roomy and comfortable.’ no one said ever.” No, no, no, no, NO! You need a comma before the tag line, not a period! Argh! How do these things get through the editorial committee?! But the one topping my collection of gross editorial mistakes is the panel truck adorned with an obviously expensive, professionally executed advertisement for a urethane foam insulation business. “Urithane” it said. Urithane?! I mean, c’mon, it’s your business! Ugh!
So, as you can see, I’m ruined as a reader. Absolutely ruined. But putting all humility aside, I do make a pretty good editor. And the more I read, especially lately, the better I become. Now where’s that red pen? Time to go back to the beginning and clean up all my typos . . . .
Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes