Category Archives: Q&A

On the tolerance of writers

I am not a big fan of diatribes against editors. But I can definitely see the point when I read something like this bit from this month’s Chicago Manual Q&A.

Q. In the sentence ?I thought more people would be interested in knowing what happened to XXX, but I see that his fate, his life, doesn?t seem to bring folks together the way the water did,? would you use ?don?t? instead of ?doesn?t?? Or does that comma after ?his life? keep the verb singular? The author will not tolerate the insertion of ?and? between ?his life? and ?his fate.?

Good for the author!

Admittedly, it can be hard when your editor works for a publisher. But often, even when you’ve hired an editor yourself, it can be hard to remember: the editor is supposed to make your life easier, not harder. Our job is to provide you with new ideas, new information that will help you create exactly what you want to create.

If I’m doing my job, responses to an edit I suggest (yes, suggest) will be like these:

  • Thanks! I was having trouble describing that.
  • I can see where my original was unclear, but this doesn’t quite work either. How about… ? and occasionally…
  • That doesn’t work. I’m keeping it the way it was.

What I really love is how the writer and I almost always come to agreement on each change, because we’re both working toward the same goal: helping the writer’s ideas come through. I question them, they question me, and we both learn things.

If you have an editor who thinks their ideas are more important than yours, or doesn’t want you to challenge their edits, run!

In case you’re curious, here’s the answer the terrific Chicago editors gave.

A. ?Doesn?t? is correct, and ?and? would change the meaning of the sentence. ?Life? here is a gloss on ?fate,? a parenthetical explanation or extension of it, not an additional item. Your author is right?but you have left us hanging about the curiously unifying properties of this water.