Friday, August 10, 2012

Habit Words


Some years back, you came to terms with a publisher for an editing job, asked when you could expect the manuscript, then discovered at the sound of the incoming mail ping on your then computer and the publisher’s cheery, “Right now,” that you were about to have your first electronic editing job.

“I like my editors to submit a list of habit words with the red track.”

“Piece of cake,” you said, figuring you could find out what she meant by habit words and red track after you figured out how to do a digital edit.  Close to five hundred books under your belt, all the conventional marked-up manuscript.

Turns out you knew well what habit words were; as an editor, you’d noted them on numerous occasions, as a writer, you had several of your own.  Habit words, of course, are words the author uses repeatedly, sometimes with deliberation, to the point where any subsequent iteration causes an editorial cringe and makes you wonder what the reader will think.

Habit words are often the simple housefly words such as and, it, or, but, nevertheless, however, appropriately, and subsequent or its adverbial form, subsequently. Habit words may also include too many adverbs.  Because you resort to them here, you’re willing to let the occasional one or two slide by, your antennae coming up when there are more than two a page.  Adverbs in general make for a rousing conversation, thepro-adverb persons accusing the non-adverb people of snobbery, of being overly conservative. 

You’ve used your unfair share of ands, particularly in connecting independent clauses.  This relates, you believe, to your love of long sentences and your sense that a long train of independent clauses connected by ands or buts is a smoother ride than the clickety-clack of punchy declarative sentences of four or five words.

You are no stranger to accordingly, thus, writ large, and for all intents and purposes, these last two scoring the anti-Scrabble equivalent of double word scores by virtue (another habit trope) of being cliché as well as habit.

Seeing your work go through content editing and copyediting, you give silent but fervent praise.  Habit words are often idiosyncratic to a particular project, leaving you on occasion to wonder why a particular story or essay has brought out the strange, sometimes recondite synonyms for a particular term.  Nice that you can recast the occasional paragraph to set things on a more conversational tone or at least to remove the sense that the entire work had been written as though with a new sentence each day.  Worse still, the use of some habits betrays the obviousness of you showboating, showing off, worse yet, you trying to impress yourself.

Editing is a safeguard against a great many things and an enhancement for a great many more.  That extra pair of eyes on your work catches habit words, then sends them back where they belong, to the closet where you keep all your tools.

Your bravado with your first digital edit paid off; the same publisher was quick to assign you two more.  Blundering upon the Microsoft Word Track Changes feature, you soon realized the first editorial pass was red, thus red tracking referred to that function.

Your bravado was also enhanced by the fact that you could and did show the publisher how to change the setting on her computer from standard, hash-mark quotation marks to curly quotation marks.

That was then.  Digital editing is in many ways a joy, not the least reason being because it means you don’t have the chance of spilling coffee on the text or trying to remember where you put the paper manuscript.  Digital manuscripts are not as likely to get buried on the coffee table in the living room.  (Even though the living room is for all practical purposes [sound familiar?] the only room, the other two being the enormous kitchen and the modest-sized bathroom, an incredible number of things end upon that table, not to be seen again for some time.)

Digital editing is, after all, editing, which you enjoy.  What the matter comes down to is this:  digital editing has not replaced paper editing for you.  In your lifetime, paper editing may become looked upon as quaint, the old way, the print book an increasing rarity.  No problem with that, although you can say with complete honesty that you have yet to read a digital book that was published in this century.

This is not a grumble about digital nor about technology changing the way we read, write, or edit.  This is more to say you understand your idiosyncrasy.


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