The Old Editor says, “Be suspicious of all one-sentence injunctions about writing and editing.”
About 95 percent of the way into The Old Editor Says (yes, I read the Kindle version), you’ll encounter this reasonable bit of self-aware wisdom: “One-sentence exhortations, the ones in this little book included, are not adequate for the complexity of experience.” Yet that is precisely why I’d advise writers and editors to pick up a copy.
Those of you who read John E. McIntyre’s blog or follow him on Twitter are familiar with the wit and wisdom he dispenses. Those of you who don’t—go, read, follow. A couple of years ago, McIntyre began tweeting editorial aphorisms from “the Old Editor,” which he helpfully gathered into a “What the Old Editor Says” blog post. If any of those capture or clarify a truth for you, you’ll enjoy reading more in his book.
Though dispensed as maxims in a short 70 pages (easily read in one sitting, but likely to be reread often), the proverbial statements are expanded enough to be genuinely and generally helpful. For example:
The Old Editor says, “When you have to trim an article to fit, take out the dumbest stuff first.”
Even experienced copy fitters can wonder where something falls on the spectrum of dumb. The Old Editor elaborates, indicating some of the items on the dumbest end:
“The throat-clearing introduction. The pointlessly detailed anecdote. … Rhetorical questions, especially when they’re answered.” [See also “Can’t be cut? Son, I could cut the Lord’s Prayer”—and the 22-percent-shorter prayer that follows.]
As the Old Editor says, “You can’t fatten poor stock.” Happily, the rich stock of newsroom maxims has been expertly rounded out for you by a veteran editor. Get your paperback or digital copy at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, iBookstore, or an independent bookstore near you.
For more editing wisdom from Mr. McIntyre, don’t miss the March 14 audio conference “Choosing Your Battles.”
Image credit: The Old Editor Says copyright John E. McIntyre, published by Apprentice House, cover design by Anthony J. Medina, photo by Katherine M. Marshall