What Editing Should Be

reading sculptureAs a quick follow-up to the post on the magic of Maxwell Perkins, I want to share an article titled “The Better Angels of Our Writing” from The Chronicle of Higher Education. In it, Rachel Toor, associate professor of creative writing at Eastern Washington University’s writing program, writes of two modern-day Maxwells: Carol Saller and Mary Norris.

Saller is best known for her work on Lingua Franca and the CMS Q&A (as well as the book  The Subversive Copy Editor), and Mary Norris is the author of  Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. These women are shining examples of what Maxwell Perkins showed us editing could be, what editing should be.

Instead of becoming nitpicking bullies who are offended by the mistakes of authors, editors should work to understand authors’ choices. After all, suggestions and corrections can be made without drawing blood. Author and editor must work together to achieve the mutual goal of a good book. As Toor notes, “Our duty is to the reader.” Editors should strive to be what Mary Norris describes as “a person who who can correct us, point out mistakes we all make, and manage not to make us feel bad, because . . .  [we make] the same mistakes.”

Toor reminds us that making art and making friends are not mutually exclusive.  After all, she says, “good copy editors see me not just for who I am but for who I want to be, and they help me get there.”


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