Copy editors are a crotchety set. There are far fewer of them than there used to be (and it’s not because we all suddenly absorbed the lessons of the AP Stylebook and Mrs. Sutton’s seventh-grade English class) but those who remain are upholding the long tradition of curmudgeoning, hurrumphing and tsk-tsking. (I just did that to give the copy editors among us something to do…)
That said, they are nearly always right. Such is the case with Philip Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards at the New York Times. The newspaper’s writers may get tired of hearing his critiques, but I doubt they find much fault with those critiques.
Corbett keeps a blog called After Deadline and it is very much worth following. It’s a collection of things he sees and corrects in the daily newspaper and a regular reminder to the rest of us that Times reporters also sometimes have trouble stringing together words in intelligible ways.
I found one particular post most refreshing in the wake of so much stuffiness. (Go to the blog and scroll to “Bright Passages.”) This time, Corbett used his bully pen to note some fine writing. An example:
ATLANTA — The fountains turned into crystal still-lifes in Savannah, Ga. Ducks walked forlornly on iced-over swimming holes in southern Arkansas. School bus doors froze open in Beaufort, S.C. And pipes froze all over as Southerners, who are not born or made for temperatures in the Minnesota digits, had to consider things they typically take for granted. …
About which, Corbett wrote: “A perfect turn of phrase in Alan Blinder and Campbell Robertson’s account of an unaccustomed Southern cold snap.”
I’ve always believed that writing is about many things: intelligence, experience, patience, preparation, reading. One of those things is confidence. About the only way an editor or friend can help a writer become more confident is to reinforce the good stuff. Let your writer friends know you noticed when they slip in some “Minnesota digits.” I keep a separate blog for folks at the Review and that is one of the reasons why I do so. Want to know more about that blog? Just ask.