'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: If the house you're writing about isn't Blenheim Palace, don't call it “stately.”

Inflate your tires, not your stories. You’re writing about some vulgar mini-mansion erected in what was a cornfield two years ago, inhabited by some jumped-up jobber who made a pile by flogging shoddy goods to the unwary, paid for this architectural excrescence, and allowed it to be decorated by his third wife, who is “artistic.” They may be what pass for gentry in your neck of the woods, but you needn’t write about them as if they claimed kin with the Cavendishes and the Spencers and the Vane-Tempest-Stewarts.

Comment: This isn’t just about the word "stately." It’s about the writer’s temptation to make the subject, and thus the writer, look more important. And it’s a violation of the old injunction from fiction writing: Show, don’t tell. 

The Old Editor says: Be suspicious of all one-sentence injunctions about writing and editing.

Those “rules” of grammar and usage you were taught were often misguided or flat wrong. (Split infinitives freely. Put prepositions at the end of sentences.) Those “rules” from whatever stylebook you use aren’t statutory; they’re guidelines. One-sentence exhortations, the ones in this little book included, are not adequate for the complexity of experience.

What you need is judgment. And for that, gentle reader, you are on your own.

The Old Editor Says is available in both print and Kindle forms at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com.


About the Author

John E. McIntyre, Writing for Grammar Girl

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