Wednesday, September 27, 2006

There is pain in contribution.


I reach this point when I have been editing really crappy writing for too long. Like today. It's a 4,400-word article that should have been 2,000 words, from a contributor whose name is on the newsletter and who gives us content free every month. This arrangement is the oil that lubricates much, if not most, of b2b publishing. B2b publishers could never afford to pay professional writers, or heck any writers, a fee for all their content. They would have to fold the tent and go home. And that's saying something when writers are woefully underpaid to start with. Instead, b2b publishers pay editors a nominal salary to fix the mess. That's where I come in.

I wish that I merely corrected the use of that and which, unsplit some infinitives that didn't need splitting, added or deleted some commas, and called it a day. That is certainly my wet-dream fantasy for today. I have had contributors who wrote so well I barely had to touch their work. I ADORED those contributors, even if they came with a prima donna attitude. It's a lot less work to massage egos than to fix horrible writing. Life really, truly, deeply sucks as an editor when you have to do both.

I try not to be mean when I edit. I know that despite their crappiness, the contributors writing for us do sweat some blood. I know it hurts when your purple prose that you stayed up late writing gets whacked without much explanation, let alone with the snarky comments I would love to make. I rather hope that it hurts less to be edited by a professional, and dare I say decent editor and writer, than by someone in your firm who is just more senior and wrong-headed than you are when it comes to writing. That happened to me frequently in days of old when I practiced law.

Here is my favorite editing story from those ulcer days: The young lawyers in the office who worked for a particular partner, Thinman, were sick and tired of all the crazy, nit-picking, make-your-writing-worse edits he insisted upon. So we decided to have a monthly contest. Whoever got the worst Thinman edit of the month would get lunch on the others' tab. It was a great idea, but shortlived. Thinman's secretary won the all-time title in the first month.

In legal affidavits, there is boilerplate language to include at the end. Lawyers who litigate for a living can recite it in their sleep, and it goes like this: "I certify under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct to the best of my knowledge." (Even after 9 years away from practicing law, I don't have to look that up.)

Well, Thinman gave his secretary this edit on an affidavit: "I certify under the penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct to the best of my knowledge." Yep, he added THE to the boilerplate. We just couldn't go on with the contest after that.

Unfortunately, I still edit lawyers' writing frequently. I just don't work directly for them, and for that I'm grateful.

Now excuse me while I mop up the blood dripping from my eyeballs from having to edit today's verbal diarrhea.


Angry Gay Mike said...
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Angry Gay Mike said...

Ah, lawyers: utterly useless and frustrating unless they are winning you money. I have loved them, worked with them, and tried to live with them. It is an impossible task. And when it comes to their writing bullheaded wrongness and drek are all one gets usually (that and rabid ego-mania). But you know that first hand.

I am glad you are no longer working as heavily with this aggravating breed. I am still trying to escape Lawyerland myself as you know. I am becoming more convinced that no matter where I run I will be forever cursed to have them leave their muddy footprints on the marble floor of my life's foyer.

That being said I need a Gimlet...