editing on the front line

Updated: Sep 24, 2021

Mightier than the sword? (image:

‘When the world blows up and the final edition has gone to press the proof-readers will quietly gather up all commas, semicolons, hyphens, asterisks, brackets, parenthesis, periods, exclamation marks, etc. and put them in a little box over the editorial chair.’

— Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer, 1961

There are some writers who think that editors are pedantic, nit-picking keyboard warriors intent on ruining perfectly serviceable copy with arcane and smartarse observations. Indeed I do my very best to conform to this cliché every day of my working life. It’s a serviceable persona, and it disguises my true identity. Because if you stop for a minute to consider the language of editing, page layout and typography you’ll realise that the seemingly nerdy wordy editor inhabits a violent cosmos where editorial judgements count and only the ruthless survive.

The Language of Armageddon

The terminology of type and page design describes a perilous place. In it, characters are grotesque, distressed, struck through, knocked-out, slashed and bulleted. They splat and bleed… sometimes fully. Speech marks, smart or dumb, frequently end up as tombstones. Copy can be tracked, stripped, spliced, cut, spiked and bound with ligatures, occasionally leaving widows and orphans to contemplate each other across a too-wide gutter. Punctuation can gasp and scream, and participles can dangle; an initial cap can be hung, dropped or be part of a stickup – possibly marked with a double dagger. One of the few editorial acts of violence you apparently can’t inflict on bad copy is to cut its face off and set it on fire, possibly to the irritation of some commissioning editors.

Armed with a dictionary and, inevitably, a half-finished style guide supplied by his mottled overlords (a good copy editor always does it with style), the resourceful freelance wordsmith must traverse this harsh landscape, scouring enemy lines, searching for meaning, seeking out and eradicating the mistakes of others. It can be a lonely job, requiring iron self-discipline in the face of six billion YouTube distractions.

‘WTF Are You Talking About?’

Some might be wondering why I’m writing this. Why do writers, marketeers, web designers and authors need an editor? Simply, it’s because we can get the best out of your written word. Typos and grammatical errors can be stripped, your clarity and structure enhanced and your tone perfected. We check for continuity of language and that your copy makes sense. We turn your American-English into British-English, and vice versa depending on your intended readership. We check your use of chronology, spellings, trademarks, accents, geography, purported facts, statistics and translations so that you don’t look silly:

Feeling better already (image:

Marketing slogan for a greetings card company (image:

Every document needs an edit and every writer needs an editor. Death by a 1000 cuts is the least of your worries. Editors – ruthless, brave but tactful. We go there so you don’t have to.

Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial ‘we.’”

– Mark Twain

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