The First Week: Let’s Discuss

Our first week of Editing and Publishing complete, my mind is brimming with ideas for discussion. I expect nothing less given the fact that 15 weeks remain, but I wonder if the nature of editing processes has something to do with it as well. To be more explicit, in editing there’s often a desire to discuss. We discuss with our colleagues mechanical edits when we’re unsure or when an error is situational enough to entertain the possibility of being an exception to the rule, and we even discuss the lore of different styles.

Case in point, today I told a group of students what a former editor once told me: “In shortening numerical decades, always replace the missing numbers with an apostrophe. For example, 1970s becomes ’70s, 1960s becomes ’60s…” He went on. I still remember.

When I shared that quick anecdote with a group of students, theyt face value and we moved on. When we came together as a class and discussed that particular edit, Dr. Leverenz said that no apostrophe is necessary, i.e. 70s, not ’70s. Naturally, I was embarrassed. I looked it up and I found both. MLA uses the apostrophe, as I have learned, whereas Chicago, the style we’re using for the class, does not.

Returning to this idea of discussion, I explained the difference to a few of the students with whom I discussed the rule. I also discussed it with Dr. Leverenz. Had I been working as a freelance editor, I probably would have discussed the difference with a more senior editor. My point is that discussion is an integral part of effective editing, and yet a secondary, more contradictory point is that it’s not always characteristic of editors to discuss. Thisnnects to one of the discussion questions we posed for next Wednesday’s class. Dr. Leverenz asked, “Based on your reading of The Subversive Copyeditor, what are the traits of a copyeditor?”

Students thought about this as they read the first half of The Subversive Copyeditor by Carol Fisher Saller. She defines the copyeditor stereotype for new or prospective copyeditors, saying: “Our propensity for meticulousness and perfectionism, traits that are important to us… draw us to careers in manuscript editing in the first place. The problem is that there’s no end to the amount of fussing you can do with a manuscript, whereas there’s a limit to the amount of money someone will pay you to do it” (Fisher Saller 112).

I’m in agreement with Fisher Saller, who follows this definition with a series of advisements on how to disengage from editing, how to have a life, and how to leave work at work. From these suggestions, I might argue that copyeditors show Type A or workaholic characteristics, both of which I identify with, for better or worse.

All of these observations remind me of a conversation I once had with an assistant editor at the creative writing journal with which I interned my last semester of undergrad study. We were discussing the obsessive tendencies of editors in general, and she showed me a quick read on the correlation between editors and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) diagnoses. I can’t find the article now, but Fisher Saller mentions in her book. In searching for it online, I came across this Twitter post:


From @PeterSokolwski on

I include this example either to make light of a serious condition nor to reinforce a reductive, negative view of the copyediting profession. My purpose is to reflect on what it means for students in Editing and Publishing. Personal experience tells me that most copyeditors aren’t diagnosed with OCD, although some joke about claiming those traits. Certainly, though, the stereotype of the Type-A, brilliant but intense editor looms in our minds for good reason. Do most copyeditors need such traits? Do most feel as though they can’t reach out to others to discuss copyediting issues? And if so, does that inability stem from this negative stereotype that projects a need for perfection?

I’ll be interested to hear what the students have to say next week. I suspect there will be some glorification of the stereotype and some skepticism. What I’m counting on is that they’ll want to discuss this stereotype just as extensively as they seem to want to discuss all the practice edits we’ve been working on in class. Their eagerness to discuss speaks volumes toscussion in editing, I think. I hope the openness of the course and our stress on subjectivity and acknowledgment of variation resonates with our students. Finally, I hope this approach to teaching publishing ripples out to the profession. If we teach our students that subjectivity is okay, that most edits are debatable, and that making time for thoughtful discussion is often in their best interest, I think we can have an influence on the field. The connection between the classroom and the field is in the forefront of my interests right now. We’ll see if it maintains that position next week.



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