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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015

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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

Edit Yourself—Edit Your Life

A book by Bruce Ross-Larson that I picked up second hand in the 80s still sits on my bookshelf directly over the edge of the center of my computer screen. Edit Yourself, it says in bold Courier type. I was just starting my first publishing venture and was already juggling deadlines for three periodicals and trying to pick the right electronic publishing solution. Part of my job was editing, including material that I wrote myself. I return to the book periodically to brush up on his 10 “change this” rules.

What inspired me today, however, was that the title has been speaking to me about life instead of writing lately. (I know—is there a difference?) Here are his 10 key concepts, re-interpreted to apply to all of life.

Fat. I edited the third sentence in the first paragraph above: “Part of my job, of course, was editing these three publications, including material that I was writing wrote myself.” But this applies to other kinds of fat. I’m not as heavy as I was a few years ago, but the pounds have begun to creep up on me, and I could use a little editing (anagram for dieting).

Better words. Mac Mackinnon, author of the 80s coffee table book WhaleSong, edited his work to fit the primitive desktop publishing software available at the time. He once quipped, “Is there a four-letter word for ‘flensing’?” I think of it in my daily interaction with wife, daughter, business associates, and friends as simply being transparent. Can they tell how I feel? What I mean? What’s expected?

Antecedents. My life is filled with pronouns: he, she, it, and the ubiquitous “they.” As often as not, those are vague references to something unknown. “They make this so hard,” I thought as I was working on taxes. Who makes it hard? The people who wrote the tax forms, or the one who didn’t organize and keep track of his expenses? Righteous indignation arises when we don’t really know who we are talking about, or prefer to ignore it.

Order. We were all taught sentence structure as being subject-verb-object. In writing, I find myself making things more difficult than they need to be by screwing up the order. Ditto life. It doesn’t mean there is no room for something decorative or surprising. It does, however, mean knowing where everything in my life belongs. One look at my office (The Dragon’s Cave) will tell you that I need to work on this one!

Shorter. I once wrote a 250-word paragraph for my English teacher that was all one sentence. The comment she wrote back to me took me 20 years to decipher. It’s not that my sentence was technically incorrect, but that it would have been so much simpler if it had been ten sentences. I look at the jobs I face in my life—like publishing a book—and taken as a whole it overwhelms me to the point of immobility. But taken as 20 things I can do and check off my list, I progress day by day.

Dangling construction. Incomplete sentences. Dangling participles. Stuff that never gets quite. In English they cause readers to stop and try to figure out what the author was intending to say that she couldn’t finish. In life, it is all the unfinished projects that make me stop and try to figure out what I really wanted/intended to do. I need to finish my sentences and finish my projects.

Abused relatives. That, which, and who are relative pronouns. They always refer to a clearly defined subject and are frequently misused. I’m not writing about language at the moment, though. Instead I’m talking about the relatives I seldom speak to, really know little about, and often roll my eyes behind their backs. Oh yes. I need to work on this.

Active. Everyone who writes knows active voice is generally preferred over passive. Accomplishing that is the task of a lifetime. Being active in life is equally important. I want to be physically active. You might find that as difficult as I do if you spend your days at a computer keyboard. But it is not just physical action beckoning us. We are not remembered or honored for what we believe. We are not remembered or honored for what we suffered or endured. We are remembered and honored (or judged) for what we did.

Parallel construction. If you use a list of bullets in a presentation, they should all use the same structure. You shouldn’t have three bullets that are a single noun and a fourth bullet that is a sentence of instruction. In life, I think that means reusing successful processes. It also means discarding those that were not successful. My daughter is fond of quoting, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” At the same time, she knows that if she does not skate into her double-Lutz exactly the same way every time, she will fall. Repeat successful patterns.

Consistency. In writing, consistency could be as simple as making sure you refer to a character in the same way all the way through the book. No being a blond in the first chapter and a redhead in the eighth unless you tell me she dyed her hair. Consistency in life is much harder. It’s probably my number one goal. When I say that we should conserve energy, I need to turn out the lights. It doesn’t do any good to espouse high principles if we live to base desires. Consistency is about living a life consistent with the ideals we hold and I’m working toward that every day. (slowly)

There you have it—ten rules for editing applied to daily life (stet).

Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone Who Works with Words

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