The Pen and the Pilcrow Blog

Thoughts on life, language, and books. Not necessarily in that order.

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On the Basics: Making Good Use of Business Down Time

Useful advice for freelancers at all career stages.

An American Editor

Making Good Use of Business Down Time

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Here’s another topic that shows up often at LinkedIn, on the Copy Editing List, the Editorial Freelancers Association discussion list, and elsewhere: When you don’t get any editing work for a while, what do you do to keep your skills sharp?

Both the question and the answers apply to writing, editing, proofreading, indexing, graphic design — whatever your editorial freelancing niche might be. We all experience the occasional downtime, and we all could probably benefit from a fresh look at how to make the most of that time.


Simply continuing to do what you do professionally, even without pay, is one way to keep those skills up to par. My editorial eye never sleeps; I find typos and infelicities in everything I read or see. I clip and correct typos. I notice and mentally revise clunky writing. I like…

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The Struggle Is Real (or Is It?): Editors, Editing, and What’s Really Important

A few days ago, I read Emmy Favilla and Megan Paolone’s article “33 Struggles Only Copy Editors Will Understand” on BuzzFeed (and loved it so much I retweeted it). After the chuckles subsided, however, I started thinking about how editors can either encourage people to more closely examine the use of language or forever turn people off from exploring the purpose and evolution of language. There are online lists, boards, and communities overflowing with arguments about the serial comma, whether to end a sentence with a preposition, and other rules and practices of grammar and usage that are interesting (to some), and even useful (to many more). But are these rules truly important?

Favilla and Paolone’s article took a humorous look at 33 gripes that resonate with any copy editor, and on a larger scale, any number of word nerds. While I’ll admit that the struggle is real for me in some areas (number 20, anyone?), there were several that left me thinking, “Yes, only a copy editor would ever care about that.” And why do we copy editors care? For many of us, our love of the English language and endless fascination with how language has changed over time have established a permanent hold on our hearts and minds. This passion for language is part of what we try to pass on to others through our work. But as with many other things in life, balance is key. For editors, that means balancing grammar and usage rules with preservation of the author’s voice and faithful delivery of the writer’s message to readers.

As an editor, I see my main purpose as helping people clarify and polish their words to present their messages as fully and as clearly as possible. In order to help writers achieve the greatest clarity in their writing, I often must explain the mechanics of grammar and general rules of usage. In other words, my job is to help writers use the proper language “tools” for the job. The language tools an author uses for an article on economic theory may not be the right tools for a science fiction manuscript. For example, while there may be consistent approaches in some areas such as use of adverbial phrases, there may be a difference in the use of the word “efficient.” For any piece of writing, the way language is used should be with the intention of guaranteeing that the writer’s message is clearly received by the reader.

Yes, I’ll still have a degree of angst when character limitations require that I break a grammar rule for the sake of a tweet. I’ll still raise an eyebrow over words like “irregardless” that will never, EVER enter the pearly gates of my personal dictionary. But in the end, I’ll always celebrate the nuances and changes in language and help others do so as well.

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Vacation: The Aftermath

I’ve spent the last two weeks on vacation with my family. The first week, we spent a wonderful week in Ocean View, DE. No, I don’t believe it’s possible to over consume crabs, ice cream, or beer when enjoying the leisurely, lazy pace of the beach. The girls had a chance to swim to their hearts’ content and I attempted to catch up on my reading (more on that later). My husband had the misfortune of spending a portion of each day tethered to his laptop and participating on conference calls for work. He and I are both contracts folk by trade, so his musings and rants were related to a topic with which I’m intimately familiar. The problem, at least as I see it, is that he works with people incapable or unwilling to think for themselves – perhaps I’m just grumpy, but it is called vacation for a reason.

The second week was spent with my husband’s family in a national park in Tennessee. We stayed in a very nice cabin, complete with reasonably comfortable beds, central air conditioning, and even cable TV. The family enjoyed kayaking, canoeing, swimming, and the wildlife. While we all enjoyed ourselves, I came to realize that the old saying about fish and visitors smelling after three days certainly held true for relatives as well. Now, we’re back at home, and the full weight of catching up on emails, getting children ready for school, and returning to life as normal is setting in.

And about that reading. As summer began, I had a plan to work my way through several books. A little business, a little fiction, and a dash of history thrown in. Now, as I look at another two weeks before school starts, I have nothing to show in the way of books completed. How did that happen? So now, the fall planning begins. My businesses, and my craft as an editor and writer, are fueled in part by the books I read. What new books are you excited to read? Are there old ones that you return to frequently for inspiration?