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The Old Editor Says: Maxims for Writing and Editing Paperback – February 8, 2013
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Top customer reviews
I avidly follow a community of nitpicking editors on Twitter. That's high praise. They are the sort of people who -- as I -- lie awake at night worrying if there ought to be a hyphen in "anal-retentive." I've been writing and editing professionally for 25 years, so it's reassuring to know I'm not alone in the pursuit of "Get it right, dammit!"
One of these friends recommended this book by John McIntyre. Now I have to spend the rest of my life being grateful to both of them.
In fewer than 100 pages, McIntyre shares a huge amount of practical wisdom about the editing craft, encapsulating a philosophical outlook that matches my own. McIntyre is more skilled at editing than I am, and far more experienced. He is also funnier, better at getting his point across, and capable of brevity. It probably didn't take me more than an hour to read the book; I enjoyed every moment.
I stopped to smile on just about every page, too, because McIntyre expresses his truisms in a way that reflects every editor's experience. "Giving a reporter a thesaurus is like giving a toddler a loaded handgun," he advises, and I laughed aloud. Every author seems to believe that there's a prize given for using variations on the word, "said." However, McIntyre does a far better job than I ever managed in articulating the problem, with a quote from H.W. Fowler citing writers' desires as "intent rather on expressing themselves prettily than on conveying their meaning clearly." (And more, but you get the idea.)
Among his other lessons: "Always honor the writer's intentions. If they can be discerned and make any sense" and "If you can't tell me in one sentence what your story says, you don't know what your story says."
For several years, I've chosen writing-advice books for writer and editor friends. Among them have been Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. There's no question that several people soon shall be gifted with a copy of The Old Editor Says.
You might say that "The Old Editor Says" is McIntyre's magnum opus -- if you can say that about a book that is only 67 pages long. But the description fits, for within these pages he has distilled more than 30 years' of editorial experience into a collection of pithy maxims (his own and others'), each followed by a commentary delivered in the endearingly crusty tone that is familiar to anyone who has attended one of his presentations. (Or, as he prefers to call them, "seances.")
"If you can't tell me in one sentence what your story says, you don't know what your story says."
"If you are not possessed of a perpetually filthy mind, you are ill-equipped to edit."
"Edit to live; don't live to edit."
If you're a writer or editor, there's a good chance you'll learn at least a little something from this book. And if some of the lessons are familiar to you, it never hurts to be reminded, especially in such an entertaining way.
All I know is that as I navigate the often troubled waters of contemporary prose, it heartens me to know that John E. McIntyre, battered but unbowed, remains standing at the ship's bridge.
Most recent customer reviews
There were several obvious mispelled words.
Over prices for what I received.