[Paleopsych] The Onion: Someday, I Will Copyedit The Great American Novel

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Someday, I Will Copyedit The Great American Novel

[Thanks to Sarah for this. Does anyone know what Mr. Mencken said about 

    Someday, I Will Copyedit The Great American Novel
    By Joanne Cohen

    Most of my coworkers here at Washington Mutual have no idea who I
    really am. They see me correcting spelling errors in press releases
    and removing excess punctuation from quarterly reports, and they think
    that's all there is to me. But behind these horn-rimmed glasses,
    there's a woman dreaming big dreams. I won't be stuck standardizing
    verb tenses in business documents my whole life. One day, I will
    copyedit the Great American Novel.

    "Sure," you say, "along with every other detail-oriented grammarian in
    the country." Yes, I know how many idealistic young people dream of
    taking a manuscript that captures the spirit of 21st-century America
    and removing all of its grammatical and semantic errors. But how many
    of them know to omit the word "bear" when referring to koalas? How
    many know to change "pompom" to "pompon"?

    Copyediting is a craft. A good copy editor knows the rules of
    punctuation, usage, and style, but a truly great copy editor knows
    when to break them. Macaulay's copy editor let him begin sentences
    with "but." JFK's copy editor knew when to let a split infinitive work
    its magic. You need only look at Thackeray to see the damage that
    overzealous elegant variation can do. Right now, there's a writer out
    there with a vision as vast as Mark Twain's or F. Scott Fitzgerald's.
    He is laboring in obscurity, working with deliberate patience. He
    isn't using tricks of language or pyrotechnic plot turns. He is doing
    the hardest work of all, the work of Melville, of Cather: He is
    capturing life on the page. And when the time comes, I'll be
    here--green pencil in hand--to remove the excess commas from that

    With clear eyes and an unquenchable thirst for syntactical truth, I
    will distinguish between defining and non-defining relative clauses
    and use "that" and "which" appropriately. I will locate and remove the
    hyphen from any mention of "sky blue" the color and insert the hyphen
    into any place where the adjective "blue" is qualified by "sky." I
    will distinguish between "theism" and "deism," between "evangelism"
    and "evangelicalism," between "therefor" and "therefore." I will use
    the correct "duct tape," and not the oft-seen apocope "duck tape." The
    Great American Novel's editor will expect no less of me, for his house
    will be paying me upwards of $15 an hour, more than it paid the author

    To a writer who didn't strive for perfection, my corrections would
    seem niggling. But the author of the Great American Novel will
    understand that I am as essential to his book as the ink that will
    cover sheaf after sheaf of virgin paper.

    Some people edit copy because they choose to. I copyedit because I
    must. It isn't merely a matter of making a living. If it were that, I
    would have been line editing years ago. No, I've been fascinated by
    the almost mathematical questions of copy since the summer of my 15th
    birthday, when I found a leather-bound diary hidden away in the
    cupboard of an old abandoned farmhouse. In the diary, a young
    housemaid recorded her hopes, fears, and aspirations.

    That summer, I spent many hours poring over the handwritten book, pen
    in hand, correcting grammar and writing "sp" next to words. I urged
    paragraph breaks, provided omitted words, and indicated improper
    capitalizations with a short double-underline. I wrote "stet" in the
    margins when I made a mistake. Even though I knew Miss Charlotte would
    never see the notation, I wanted the text to be flawless.

    In my mind's eye, I can see the galleys of the Great American Novel on
    my desk. There is no time to waste. Deadlines have been missed, for
    the writer has passed out on his desk many times after writing into
    the wee hours. But, finally, he has perfected the 23rd draft. His work
    is done.

    I get myself a fresh cup of coffee, get out several sharpened green
    pencils, and adjust my noise-reduction headphones for the long task
    ahead. I lower my head into my cubicle. My work is just beginning.

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