50 ways to love your editor

In the last few weeks I’ve read the three ‘Hunger Games’ books, and found myself experiencing something of what the author went through (on a much smaller scale) when she came up with the idea for it. Suzanne Collins was channel surfing between actual war coverage and reality TV that showed young people competing, and the lines began to blur in an ‘unsettling’ way.

So in my head, the recent inundation of critique about Fifty Shades of Grey became blurred with this lovely piece about 5 ways to get your editor to kill you, and with, of all things, a old favourite Paul Simon song, and this is what happened:

‘The story is all inside your head,’ she said to me,

‘We’ll work together so it comes out logically.

I’d like to help you in your struggle for your fee.’

I have fifty reasons to love my editor.

She said, ‘It’s really just my habit to improve

the gem you wrote; this story will your readers move.

You could repeat yourself, accentuate the mood.’

I have fifty reasons to love my editor.

Just slip in a comma, Donna,

Make a new para, Sarah,

You don’t need that apostrophe, Lee,

We’ll get your full fee.

Drop that full stop, Bob,

You don’t need to put the brakes on!

Be sure to tell the truth, Ruth,

And get your due fee.

She said, ‘Don’t worry – it just looks like disarray,

I know this piece is worth your time, don’t be dismayed

that we must edit when you thought it was okay.’

I have fifty reasons to love my editor.

‘Now with those changes you should sleep on it tonight,

then in the morning read it back aloud, you’ll find

it will be clear to you, it only needed time.’

I have fifty reasons to love my editor.

Verb and subject agree, Lee,

Use consistent tense, Jen,

That word is a weasel, Liesel,

We’ll get your full fee.

Get the facts straight, Kate,

No need to elucidate!

You should show, don’t tell, Mel,

You’ll get that full fee.

Haiku – do you?

An editor is someone who cares about language and about expression, particularly about subtlety and economy of expression, which can seem to be mutually exclusive categories. I was once describing for someone, in long flowing sentences, how much I loved the power of language to inform and to persuade, to build connections and relationships between people, even, in the case of written language, across space and time. He listened patiently, and then said, ‘I find words a rather coarse medium myself,’ thereby demonstrating modesty and mastery of language in one fell swoop.

Poetry is a sharp tool for carving out an exact idea with subtlety and economy, and one form I’ve been reading about recently is haiku. I’ve dabbled in this form while standing in queues (which gave rise to the unimaginative:

An excuse to stop
And practise meditation
While standing in line)

and have had the pleasure recently of listening to Ross Clark talk about being a poet and editing poets’ work. Ross presented to the Queensland Society of Editors’ meeting in February and his description of haiku, which among other things made me realise that my example above is not a good haiku at all, prompted me to read some more about it. I discovered that what I learned in high school about haiku needing to be three lines with the pattern 5, 7 then 5 syllables long was incorrect, and that they usually include a season word and are comparing two visual images for effect. Here’s one from Frogpond, the Journal of the Haiku Society of America:

pinwheeling leaves
thirty-five years end
with the word amicable

Dave Baldwin, Lake Stevens, Washington

So, imagine how pleased I am to see the collision of all that I love about language with my new interest in haiku. National Grammar Day is this Sunday, and it comes complete with a Tweeted Haiku Contest. Last year’s winner was about spelling:

Spell-checkers won’t catch
you’re mistaken homophones
scattered hear and their

@GordinaryWords

Everyone ready?