Wick Communications

Editing without an editor

In Editing on 7 Aug 2014 at 4:08 pm
From Caleb Garling's column at SFGate.com

From Caleb Garling’s column at SFGate.com

Now comes this. For $6.99, you can have Hemingway be your editor. No, not the drunken misogynist and one of the English language’s greatest writers, but rather a piece of software that pledges to tidy up your writing. Just plug in your next story and it will point out unnecessary adverbs, ambiguous word choices, wordy passages, comma splices and all the rest. It will tell you the grade level of your writing and help with headlines too.

It’s like a real live editor, only without the persistent stink of coffee and occasional profane outburst.

It also doesn’t know good writing when it sees it. That’s because editing is a nuanced job and not merely a collection of rules.

Take that paragraph at the top of this post. It’s a passage from For Whom the Bell Tolls, by that other, less than perfect Hemingway who wasn’t always earnest but the one and only Ernest. As Caleb Garling noted in his own blog post for the San Francisco Chronicle, the software Hemingway isn’t so fond of the work of the flesh and blood Hemingway. All that stuff in red is supposedly no good, the purple is ambiguous and “smally” is an iffy adverb. Ironic, isn’t it?

Look, tools like this one, which you can buy for your desktop today, can help you unpack the junk in your writing trunk. We would probably all be better off looking at something like this before we commit to print. In fact, it’s nothing new. Word and most email programs already underline misspellings and so forth. …

Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is a substitute for an editor. Sniffing out adverbs is a small fraction of the job, as hopefully all my readers know. (I know, I know the sentence is backassward… Stop correcting me, app from hell!)

A good editor helps with tone, discusses alternative ledes and kickers and advances sources you may have forgotten. She talks you down from the ledge after a city council meeting. She cajoles you to shut up and finish your story. (Because who do you think you are, Hemingway?) He has your back when the mayor comes in barking that he’s been misrepresented. He works your meetings while you are on vacation. He adds context from previous stories on the subject at hand. He knows when you have misspelled the name of the mayor’s mother.

If the day comes that you can write like Hemingway for seven bucks, I’ll step aside. Until then, everyone get back to work!

Clay

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