Questions for an Editor and Writer: Stan Carey
Irishman Stan Carey has been a self-employed editor and proofreader for over 6 years. He also writes, tumbles, and tweets about language, writing, and books. He writes for the Macmillan Dictionary blog and is a contributor to Visual Thesaurus.
You’ve described yourself as a lapsed biologist. How does your science background inform or influence the writing and editing you do now?
Science trained me in precision and clear language, which have obvious benefits for writing and editing. And it made me fussier about evidence. When I encounter a usage question I'm not sufficiently familiar with, I gorge on linguistic and editorial data before assuming anything. Studying biology also fuelled my interest in language as a phenomenon of great complexity and variety. There's no end to the fascination of a single phrase or sound when you peer at it closely enough.
What do you find satisfying about freelance editing?
I love the independence and relative freedom: I can design my own schedule and workplace, and avoid stressful commutes and dodgy canteen food. A walk to town or the sea is just a whim away, deadlines allowing. I enjoy the surprise of different subjects. Editing academic essays and theses, for instance, immerses me in worlds deeply studied that I might otherwise never have had the time or inclination to explore. And there is much satisfaction in polishing a writer's work and developing its potential, whether that means removing reams of gobbledygook or fixing a rogue italicised comma.
What resources are particularly helpful to your area of editing? Which ones do you practically use every day or which ones have been unexpectedly useful in a particular project?
The usual usage guides and dictionaries all have their merits. Favourites include the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage, OED, Oxford Manual of Style, and Chicago Manual of Style. Sometimes I write about expressions peculiar to Irish people (such as moryah), or characteristic of their vernacular (such as feck), and for this I'm indebted to Terence Dolan's Dictionary of Hiberno-English, Bernard Share's Slanguage, and works by Séamas Moylan and Raymond Hickey, among others. I'm a regular visitor to the Online Etymology Dictionary, Google Books, dictionary aggregator OneLook.com, and Mark Davies' superb online corpora. I subscribe to lots of language blogs, and most days I pop in to Twitter, where there’s a friendly community of editors, book lovers, language fondlers, and other good sorts.
Any great catches you’ve made?
A thesis I proofread used an author's name twice and misspelled it identically, but plausibly, both times; turns out it was someone who would be examining the text. The writer was very relieved when I caught it.
Do you ever collect examples of particularly tortured or particularly beautiful writing? Any snippets you’d like to share?
Occasionally I blog or tweet about bad writing, but not from what I'm working on at the time. I try not to be unkind about it: all writers have idiosyncrasies, nobody is a born stylist, and mistakes are inevitable. For snippets I've enjoyed, there's Tumblr.
What are some non-editing or peripheral activities that you find helpful to your work?
Walking or cycling can refresh a tired mind. Stretches and yoga are good for loosening laptop shoulders and proofreader’s neck (to use the technical terms). Sleep is important. Any kind of creative activity, even just doodling, is good for writing. And, maybe most importantly, reading. I'm devoted to it, and I always will be.
In the Hollywood adaptation of your story, who plays Stan?
Image, from Sentence first, is courtesy of Stan Carey.