January 3, 2011

Wisdom in book form: Using what you’ve read to help clients

Hello, editor types. I'm your January blogger, Nancy Wick. I've been a writer pretty much all my life, and have been editing since 1977, when I landed a spot on the Copy Desk at a daily newspaper. I later became a reporter, film/theater critic and entertainment columnist, and when I moved to Seattle, I went to work for the University of Washington, where I've been responsible for editing the faculty/staff publication. I began doing freelance editing for individual clients three or four years ago, and I absolutely love it.
I’m a big reader. No surprise. That’s no doubt why I like editing. And a big subset of my reading is books about writing and editing. After all, if you spend your life doing something, you want to stay up on the field. You want to know if someone else can tell you a new way, or a better way, to do what you’re doing. You want to keep getting better at your craft.
So when I sit at my desk, I’ve got a shelf full of books next to me. (For a list of some of my favorites, go to my website, www.EnlightenedEdits.com). I’ve read them all, but I keep them nearby for reference, and I find them invaluable for my editing. It’s not so much that they answer my questions, although sometimes they do. More often they help me say something to a client that I need to say.
Ever get the feeling, as you read a client’s work, that it’s got a problem—something that’s keeping it from being everything it might otherwise be? You know what the problem is, you want to point it out to the client, but you can’t quite articulate it. I’ve had that feeling many times, and that’s when I turn to that shelf of books. After all, why should I reinvent the wheel, try to find novel ways to explain something that’s already been so clearly explained by someone else? Sometimes, too, the book will suggest concrete ways a writer can address particular problems—ways I wouldn’t have thought of.
I can always refer the client to a book, and I often do, but many times the concept I want to get across is only a small part of the book. In that case I like to spell out the concept for the client, telling him or her the book I got it from. That way, the client has what’s needed to address the manuscript’s problem immediately, and can still consult the book later if desired.
So, as I blog this month, what I want to share with you is some of my favorite pieces from books on writing and editing. Wisdom nuggets, I call them. These are pieces that address common problems in writing—the kind of problems that clients often present to us as editors. I’ve tried to include a wide variety—from grammatical problems to problems in the overall structure of the work, because at times it can be just as hard (for me, anyway) to explain why something is grammatically incorrect as it is to explain why a story needs to be structured differently.
I’m sure that many of you have read the same writing and editing books I have, so for you, this may be a reminder of what they have to offer. I hope that reading this will send you back to these books to look again at what’s there—not only the things I’ve written about, but the other useful parts too. And if the books are new to you, maybe reading this will lead you to take a look at them, to see if they hold wisdom for you.
Most of all, I hope that you will react to what I’ve said by sending along comments on my wisdom nuggets and sharing with me and other readers your own wisdom nuggets. After all, when members of a profession get together, what do they do but share what they know? My shelf of reading and writing books is already groaning, but there’s always room for more. If a book can help me be of greater use to my clients, then I want to have it close by.   

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