Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Editing in Style

I had decided to attend the Advanced Copy-Editing and Effective Project Management workshop, organized by the National Book Development Council in Singapore at the National Library.  I wanted to fill any gaps in my knowledge that might exist because, although I'm well-qualified to comment on whether text works or not, I've never had any formal editorial training of any kind and I feel that lack.

Susan Keogh, who came all the way from Melbourne to give the workshop, is a very experienced editor and wrote the Lonely Planet in-house style manual. She not only knew her stuff really well, she was a very engaging speaker.

She stressed from the outset the necessity of good, clear writing - even in academic and technical texts. We looked at extracts from widely different kinds of writing including : a piece from a Mills&Boon romance, a fictionalised biography of an Australian soldier, and scientific papers, and considered how they might be improved. 

Adverbs and adjectives were too often the enemy :
... the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words
as Strunk and White have it, especially :
Rather, very, little, pretty ...
We chopped out repetitions, got rid of irrelevancies, and learned the all important art of showing not telling. We weeded out cliches and tired language, learned that detail should emerge from the narrative rather than being added to it, and needs to advance  it.  And we visited that stylistic bugbear and unintended source of hilarity : dangling modifiers. This analysis and reshaping of texts was by far the most useful part of the workshop for me. (And it confirmed my hunches - I know what I'm doing.)

On the Monday afternoon though we changed tack and looked at how to write effective blurbs and publicity material, by using such devices as extended metaphors, compiling a cheat-sheet of useful words and by using literary and grammatical effects. We took apart blurbs and wrote our own for an imaginary guide book for Singapore. And I now feel confident to tackle writing a decent one of my own ... which is just as well.

I was looking forward to the part about managing publishing projects, but it seemed to be aimed at organisations where there were multiple projects to oversee, rather than the freelance editor with just one.  But I really enjoyed Susan's disaster stories including her account of what happened when Lonely Planet published a travel guide with Westen Europe on the spine.  (They didn't recall and pulp, they inserted a humourous bookmark instead!). 

I was the only attendee from this side of the causeway, and the rest, bar one or two freelancers, worked for Singaporean publications.  It was sad not to see anyone from book publishing there as they would have found this useful (and there is a great need for such training to raise professional standards).

8 comments:

Kat said...

I wish I had known about that workshop. It sounds interesting and very enlightening. I'm a retired teacher and still teach at the university part time and this would really help me.

bibliobibuli said...

We do need workshops like this here, don't we?

Was talking to the S'pore Book Council's Mr Rama about the possibility of bringing some of their speakers up to KL.

Jordan said...

Wow, sounds great. Would love to see something like that here.

佩春 said...

Pen and ink is wits plough.................................................................

Han said...

Sounds exciting. It's high time for me to revisit Strunk & White, methinks.

Zia Ul Haq said...

Hi My name is Zia and I'm from KL. I used to be a full time writer with an international magazine and now still doing it freelance.I actually a silent reader of your blog and reading this entry lights a bulb in my head.
It seems that we are lack of editing/proof reading or maybe translation workshop here in KL. Or maybe I was not aware of this.
Anyone who might know about this kinda community or organization who do this please share with me. =)

bibliobibuli said...

hi Zia. you are so right, there is very little here. as far as editing is concerned i might try to put a workshop together - so fed up of reading the same errors over and over.

AnnLeeOnTwo said...

Enjoyed reading more about Westen Europe and other advntures:)