'The Old Editor Says'

Find out why John E. McIntyre says in his new book, The Old Editor Says, that reading other people’s raw copy is like looking at your grandmother naked.

John E. McIntyre, Writing for
4-minute read
Episode #367

'The Old Editor Says'

John McIntyre, author of the blog You Don’t Say and a veteran editor at The Baltimore Sun has published a delightful little book of writing and editing maxims, The Old Editor Says. Today’s podcast presents some representative maxims and additional comments.

The Old Editor says: Reading other people’s raw copy is like looking at your grandmother naked.

When veteran Sun reporter Rafael Alvarez was temporarily assigned to the metro desk, this was his verdict after his first week’s experience, and from this observation several conclusions can be drawn.

First, from your editor, as from your butler, there are no secrets. If you have allowed yourself to be lazy, careless, turgid, or sloppy, there is no concealing it.

Second, everyone—everyone—is capable of shoddy work, especially in the first draft. That is why writers need editing, not just self-editing, but editing from an independent set of eyes.

Comment: Elsewhere, The Old Editor writes: “You surely understand that a writer who operates without an editor is like an aerialist working without a net. Even the Flying Wallendas occasionally take a tumble, and, with respect, chances are excellent that you are not a Wallenda.”

The Old Editor says: Do I have a tattoo on my forehead that says “Waste my time”?

My former colleague Ursula Liu sums up sources of frustration shared by editor and reader alike: The writer who simply dumps a notebook into an article, without troubling to sort out the significant from the insignificant. The writer who circles around the same point repeatedly. The writer who can’t quite figure out what the focus of the article is. The wordy writer. The intoxicated-with-my-own-burnished-prose writer. The tell-them-what-you’re-gonna-tell-them, tell-them, tell-them-what-you-told-them writer.

Readers who discover that they bear that tattoo have one quick expedient, and they are not shy about resorting to it. They stop reading.

Comment:  Barney Kilgore of The Wall Street Journal said, “The easiest thing for a reader to do is stop reading.” No one feels obligated to read what you’ve written. You have to earn the reader’s attention, sentence by sentence.

Next: What to Do When Your Writer Makes Sense


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