Mighty Red Pen

June 6, 2012

A wink and a nod

Filed under: Lit review — mighty red pen @ 6:39 pm
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If there’s one thing that makes me a somewhat peevish reader these days, it’s the weedlike way some books have grown (Freedom, “Twilight,” and “Dragon Tattoo,” I’m looking at you), seemingly without the careful pruning and nurturing of an editor. Relentlessly repetitive imagery, endless superfluous information, charmless language choices—the content just goes on and on.

Which is why it was such a joy to encounter The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes a few weeks ago, with its beautiful economy of language and loving restraint. Anne Tyler’s The Beginner’s Goodbye is another such book—although it wasn’t as revelatory for me as Barnes’s book, the gentle but insistent tidiness of the text wrapped up a direct and pithy story in under 200 pages. It’s not that I have any problem with a longer book, it’s just that some longer books I’ve read lately (Game of Thrones, I’m looking at you) are such exceedingly lengthy forced marches, they are more to be endured than to be read. Every once in a while, I appreciate a book that shows up, says what it has to say, and then bids a fond farewell.

Having said that, here’s a little tidbit from The Beginner’s Goodbye. It’s a scene that comes after Aaron, who is both a widower and an editor, has just been introduced to Louise, a fellow editor with whom he hoped a spark might ignite.  It’s a little wink and a nod to the editorial sensibility (although not an altogether flattering one). Enjoy!

June 8, 2010

The mighty red pen

Filed under: Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 6:36 pm
Tags: ,

Here at Mighty Red Pen, we obviously believe in the power of the red pen. That’s why this blog is called as it is—because the red pen is mightier . . .  than all the other pens.

So I read with interest (as I so often do), Jan Freeman’s recent column, “Redlined: Correction Isn’t the Most Important Thing.” Here’s what caught my eye:

For schoolchildren, the red pen has long been a fearsome weapon, blazoning the marks of failure on once pristine writing assignments. And in recent years, many teachers have turned down the volume, switching from red’s loud rebuke to gentler purple pens. Now research has illuminated another aspect of the red-pen effect: A study published last month reveals that teachers armed with red pens actually grade more severely than those using blue.

These days, I don’t use a literal red pen very often since I do most of my editing on the screen using tracked changes. But when I do edit by hand, I’m always using a red pen. And Freeman is right, I think: whether I am literally or metaphorically wielding that red pen, I do feel a certain responsibility to find errors, make corrections, and overall improve the piece I am working on.

As editor of my college paper, we had a hierarchy of pen colors. The editor in chief actually used purple, which I was sort of disappointed about. At one job I had, I remember clearly a conversation with my new boss about the color pens I wanted. She suggested I consider ordering purple or green pens because she had heard that people tend to be intimidated by red pens.

I stuck to my red pens.

Freeman covers a lot of other interesting bases, including teachers’ grading habits and why students write poorly. And she touches on the always fascinating (well, to me anyway) topic of peevology with this zinger:

But even if the peevers were always right — which is not even close to true — the zero-tolerance approach betrays a misunderstanding of language learning (as well as a dim view of human nature). . . . Making prose, like making art or music, is a process of experimenting, revising, and remodeling; the errors that peevers love to pounce on are often the least important (and most fixable) of all the ways writing can go wrong.

So whether you sit in the editor’s seat in reality or just in your own mind:  Do you wield a red pen or do you eschew that in favor of a kinder, gentler approach?

May 5, 2010

Changes we can believe in

Filed under: Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 7:38 pm
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We all know them: People who believe that, when generating a written piece of work, editing is not necessary. I’ve even been asked, “Are those real edits or are they, you know, optional?” I find that a writer’s resistance to being edited is often (but not always) directly proportional to the level of edits their piece will require.

For those who believe that they are exempt from having their work edited, I present Exhibit A for the defense: President Obama and speechwriter Jon Favreau reviewing edits to a speech.

Hat tip to Words at Work.

January 8, 2010

The art of proofreading

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 5:53 pm
Tags: ,

Sometimes, this is exactly what editing feels like.

Hat tip: I Can Has Cheezburger.

August 15, 2008

Mighty feline pen

Do you think it corrects papers by high school English students? I’m thinking of getting one for Mister MRP as a back-to-school gift to help him out with the grading (shhhhhh. . . ).

Hat tip:I Can Has Cheezburger.

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