Clean Copy

posted in: Word Nerd 20
Ah, line edits. I know the feeling. Image: Wikipedia.
Ah, the red pen! I love it. Image: Wikipedia.


When I look back at entries from several years ago — like this one about the name of this blog, or this one about QVC handbags — it’s hard for me not to want to fix stuff. I feel like I hand over pretty clean copy here on the ol’ PG, but there was a time when I thought I should go back to the very, very beginning entries and revise/edit everything, but then I realized that I wanted to at least try and have a Normal Person Life.

It’s funny, though, because these days I actually feel happy to see how far I’ve come as a copy editor.

Because while it’s important to me that my style and syntax have improved (I think they have!) and while I hope my sentiments and how I express them have matured (have they?), clearly seeing that I’m picking up AP style skills is great news. All the sentiment in the world won’t connect with anyone if the writer doesn’t pay attention to the readability and consistency of her copy. And good copy editing is crucial to the writer as she tries to say what she wants to say. It’s all in the commas, man.

It’s funny, but it’s not my writing classes that get the credit for this improvement: It’s due to being an editor at the school newspaper, of course. When I was editor of Quilty magazine we had lots of eyeballs on all the text, obviously, and we were greatly aggrieved when we found a typo after the issue was printed. But rigorous, Associated Press-style copy editing isn’t the focus at most craft publishing houses, so if I were to go back through all those issues, I’d probably catch stuff.

Though I am well aware there are typos from time to time in PaperGirl, I’m confident that my hyphens, capitalizations, quotations, numbers, titles, etc., is as good as I can get it without the help of an outside editor. And I keep learning.

Just for fun, below are a few examples of sentences I wrote in an entry in 2013 — and  how I would edit those sentences, now. If you are into this kind of thing, you will be really into this. If you’re not, you will be like, “Mary, you are sweet but never give us copy editing examples ever again. Maybe consider describing paint drying.”

I know.

But for my fellow Word Nerds, enjoy. Just remember that I would surely make deeper edits on these sentences if I were working up a serious draft, but for now, the eagle-eyes out there will see the changes and it might make you smile.

All this stuff matters, it really does.

THEN: I bought $50.04 worth of hunter orange today to protect my kith and kin.
NOW: Today, I bought 50 dollars worth of “hunter” or “blaze” orange to protect my kith and kin.

THEN: [The] past few days have been ever-so-slightly tense — and it ain’t because we’ve been playing 6 hours of Yahtzee every day.
NOW: [The] past few days have been ever-so-slightly tense — and it ain’t because we’ve been playing six hours of Yahtzee every day. 

THEN: She was beautiful; pleasantly plump, with the creamy skin one can only achieve by being fed cheese curds from infancy.
NOW: She was beautiful. Pleasantly plump with the kind of creamy skin one can only achieve by being fed cheese curds from infancy.

Writing is so fun. Agh! I love it!!! 😀

20 Responses

  1. Nicole Hannah
    | Reply

    Am married to an editor, and therefore usually attempt precision in my own writing. I appreciate the same precision in others’.

    (But a caveat: I was a theatre major so I know I make errors despite my best efforts).

    • Mary
      | Reply


  2. Ruth Quinn
    | Reply

    If I were to be reincarnated, I would want to come back as a copy editor.

  3. Anita Brayton
    | Reply

    Love a good word-smith. Edit as you see fit.

  4. Jennifer T
    | Reply

    I’m grammar nerd. In the fifth Graf, shouldn’t “is” be “are”? Love your columns, Mary!

    • Ginger
      | Reply

      Yes! That struck me also.

  5. Patricia Gottshalk
    | Reply

    Our every day lives are a piece of the pie. The process of creating that pie is just as important as the whole pie. The past helps us to remember who we are, both the good and the bad.

  6. Debbie Holley
    | Reply

    Oh, Mary! I’m trepidacious about pointing this out, but there is no subject in the last NOW line you’ve re-edited. Sorry to rain on the parade. I do appreciate your desire to be really good; it shows in everything you do.

    • Mary
      | Reply

      Yay! I love this CARING. Regarding the last sentence, I will do a post soon from a book I love very much called “Several Short Sentences” by Verlyn Klinkenborg. 🙂

  7. Karen
    | Reply

    Love your writing and PG! Here’s a question I’ve had running around in the back of my mind for awhile. As to your third example, when did it become correct to have a sentence without a verb? I see this all the time, especially in newspapers. I know I’m old school, but I still like the “then” version of that example better. (And notice that I left the subject off of my first comment. I, too, am picking up some of these tech-related shortcuts!)

    • Mary
      | Reply

      Kar-Kar! See my comment below addressed to Debs!

      • Former copy editor
        | Reply

        The best edit would have been to change the semicolon to a comma. I don’t think ever so slightly needs the hyphens, either. Also, I feel I should bring your attention to dangling modifiers. I noticed a couple in one of your posts. But don’t get too uptight. The $50.04 sentence wasn’t bad, and newspaper style isn’t necessarily how everything should be.

  8. Melanie
    | Reply

    I love, love, love words and the way people put them together. Of course, I appreciate them being put together correctly, but I am not without fault for sure. I especially enjoyed your “then” and “now” examples. One, well two, things I notice myself doing are writing in a conversational way rather than in correct sentences and using ellipses way. Too. Much. I love ellipses! Mostly, I try to just get the words down on the page and out to the audience (I write a lot of letters), doing my best but not letting self-criticism prevent me from my goal.

    Have you heard of acyrologia? There is a super-funny meme out there using many examples to illustrate that word. Gut-busting funny for word-nerds.

    Thank you for your words…….all of them. 🙂

  9. Gina
    | Reply

    Sorry, but in the second example, I do not see the difference…, please?

    • Mary
      | Reply

      Gina, I love you for caring!!!! In AP style, the em dash is not “–” but ” — ” (with a space on either side), and numbers one through ten are spelled out. After ten, you use numerals, e.g., 12, 349, and so on. 🙂

      p.s. In the first example, though the amount of “$50.04” has comedic value and I could see myself putting it back if I did another draft, in AP style you don’t use $$ marks in this case. You do the number itself, then spell out “dollars.” #geek #happy

  10. Jeanann
    | Reply

    I love, love, love the fact that you care about grammar and word-smithing (if that is even a word). I taught middle school literature and grammar eons ago. Texting symbols are difficult for me to translate.

  11. Suzanne Kaye
    | Reply

    From one of my favorite books (Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss):

    When the humorist James Thurber was writing for New Yorker editor Harold Ross in the 1930s and 1940s, the two men often had very strong words about commas. It is pleasant to picture the scene: two hard-drinking alpha males in serious trilbies smacking a big desk and barking at each other over the niceties of punctuation.

  12. Elaine Judd
    | Reply

    As a fellow grammar nerd who still refers to her Greg Reference Manual when in doubt I say, “Good job on the edits” and I wonder if you share my dismay that “their” is now acceptable for use when referring to singular rather than plural persons.? What will be next? I fear “your” will become accepted as a substitute for “you’re” and the degradation will be complete. (Is it appropriate to insert a sad-faced emoji here?)

    I am enjoying your blog entries.

    • Elaine Judd
      | Reply

      I only wish I could see what I am typing before it posts. The print is so light I have to post to read it. And so, iPad typos abound.

  13. […] learned over the years that folks love the “Word Nerd” posts on the ol’ PG. The copy editing post was a big hit, for […]

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