Photo: Carla DeSantis
*A version of this blog post was originally published by Editors' Weekly, the offical blog of Editors Canada, 26 May 2020.
I still yearn for my “Summer of Reading.” It was the summer after grade 8—that awkward age when you are too young for a job, too old for some camps—and I had the now-longed-for luxury of time. I consumed a large number of books, lying on my bed reading V.C. Andrews’s creepy Flowers in the Attic and afterwards racing to the store with my friend to get the second book in the trilogy, to quench our thirst for more. Lounging in my screened-in porch, I dug into S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and devoured To Kill a Mockingbird while sitting under a tree. Not all of them were classics but popular YA choices from a certain decade. It was glorious.
It’s a new year, and many people make resolutions to edit their lives, so to speak: exercise more, eat or drink less, get their homes in order by editing out unneeded objects.
What about editing yourself, as in your words?
A few weeks ago, I was engaged in a group email interchange (personal, not business) involving a decision to be made, which left me frustrated with the way things were going. In a final act of exasperation—and perhaps acting too truthfully—I typed “I really don’t care” as my final response. But as my finger hovered over the “Send” button, my editor’s brain kicked in and gave me pause. My reply sounded too flippant. Would I leave something like that in a client’s document, or would I tweak it for better diction and tone? I decided to revise my response to “It doesn’t matter to me,” taking the onus off of “I,” placing it on the issue (“it”), and changing the verb from one of personal emotion to impersonal import.
This week I began a lengthy editing project, copyediting a critical edition of a medieval Latin text, accompanied by its English translation—a completely satisfying, challenging, and enjoyable job that is reminding me of my previous experience with medieval manuscripts (see my previous blog) and writing my own critical edition. This work makes me ponder, once again, the connections between copyediting and manuscript editing, which consists of transcribing the ancient script; choosing, eliminating, or editing the readings of various manuscript witnesses; and finding the sources on which the text may have drawn, in order to bring the text into readable form for the modern reader. What are some of the skills necessary for editing medieval Latin manuscripts and how have they informed what I do today when copyediting academic materials and bringing these texts into more readable form for my clients?
Photo: Carla DeSantis
A couple of weeks ago, my daughter came home with a less-than-stellar grade on her history test. When I asked about it, her reply came as a shock to me: “Why do we even need to learn history? We need to look to the future instead of the past.”
Now, I am all for forward thinking, but as someone who has spent most of her life thinking and learning about what past cultures have done, thought, and written – mainly in the context of language and literature – and how this has impacted and influenced modern thought, language, and literature, I had to stop and really think about what her reply means.
What is your style guide? Armani? American Eagle? Ralph Lauren?
Maybe when it comes to your fashion choices, but when writing for publication, business, or academic purposes, you need a set of guiding standards to ensure that your important work is presented in a consistent way, so that your reader can focus on your crucial message and is not distracted by the fact that “New York Times” appears within quotation marks on page 4 and in italics as New York Times on page 120. (Are you referring to two different publications, the reader may ask herself?) If you cite (Brown 2001, 120) on page 45 and (Brown, 66) on page 56, is it the same reference? And minor variations like “the United States Government” in one place and “the US government” in another will simply irritate your reader.
"Click. Add note to replace text. Add text box with notation for typesetting. Strike through text. Insert correct source at cursor." I am working in Adobe Acrobat on page proofs, preparing them for publication with a university press. I have been invested in this project from:
A Different Kind of Manuscript
Twenty years ago, however, you would have found me in the venerable Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan or Biblioteca Statale of Cremona in Italy, perusing a different kind of manuscript – ones written by hand on vellum or parchment paper in the late Middle Ages. I imagined a life of research, studying the written treasures hidden within the pages of such medieval manuscripts – accessible only to those trained to read the cryptic script and qualified to handle the fragile pages – and teaching Latin to university students. How did I end up working on modern books, on digital platforms, for other scholars?
I am Carla DeSantis, and welcome to my blog! I love language and words and books, and have turned this love into a business, helping others to perfect their written message.