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How to Drive an Editor Crazy

2016 July 5

How to Drive an Editor CrazyI’m back …

The straight jacket has been removed, and I am able to conduct business with dangerous tools such as a computer and a website.

Okay that was a joke. Maybe.

On my time away in the asylum, I came across a few suggestions that might help as authors continue to apply edits to their work. I suppose this first post is appropriate.

I have enjoyed life as an editor both in acquisition and in freelance, but there are some things that authors do, and I’m including myself in the author category, that can drive an editor to the brink of insanity. Granted, when these things are done correctly and sparingly, they may make an editor’s heart soar, but when done incorrectly and to the point of overdosing the reader, the editor … this editor … can be brought to momentary lapses of villainous derangement. Editors can be very dangerous when they cross the threshold into the land of the demented, so I thought I’d share a few of those treacherous areas with you:

  • Creative punctuation: Authors who tiptoe through the field of em dashes, ellipses, parentheses, semicolons, commas played by ear, and run-on sentences, or as I refer to them “end of sentences played by ear,” must know why these wonderful marks of punctuation exist and how they are used before they can break the rules. Editors develop pet peeves. We develop them because of writers. Some editors, and I’m not one of those, hate semicolons. I love a properly placed semicolon when they are not used in every other sentence. Some editors don’t mind parentheses in fiction. I’m not one of those editors. I abhor parentheses in fiction. (However, if you see me write posts or other non-fiction, you are liable to see me use one or two or a dozen. I’m trying to break that habit.) The key to keeping an editor within the margins of sanity is the correct use and the lack of overuse of various creative punctuation marks. A special note about commas: as an editor, I am a comma Nazi. However, when advised by an author that the comma is creative license, as in “I want a pause there,” most often I will agree. Try to pull that stunt with a semicolon, and we’re going to war. The same applies with a run-on sentence. If I can’t get away with them, neither can anyone else in my realm of influence. And believe me I’m notorious for the longest sentences in recorded history, all chopped down by the ready pen–or track change–of an editor.
  • Stage direction instead of a sentence: Stage direction in a screenplay might read something like this: “You don’t understand. I must see what’s in that closet.” Stepping toward the door.
    There’s a running gag in the movie Murder by Death where Peter Sellers, as Mr. Wang is told by the host (and I’m paraphrasing out the terrible language), “You’re a highly educated, intellectual detective. Why can’t you say your pronouns.” That’s exactly what I remember every time a writer dares to cross over from the art of literature to screenwriting … a perfectly fine art with its own set of rules, but a screenwriter can get away with leaving out the pronouns. A writer of literature should not even attempt to do so.
  • Alright is not a word (even though my spell checker on my website seems to think so.It is wrong, terribly and utterly incorrect). Already is one word; all right should always be written as two words. And if you don’t believe me, start looking on Facebook or Pinterest for the memes. Most editors have one that declares that “alright” is not all right. This also applies to “a lot” of other misspelled and incorrectly used words.
  • Continuing with the last note, let me tell you what will really have an editor plotting against an author with manic fury. Yes, I’m exaggerating. The truth is probably closer to the editor stoking a little fire or irritation. All an author has to do is to refuse to believe what an editor is telling him or her. Careful here. I’m not saying that questioning an editor is out of the question. I’ve learned how wrong I can be on some edits because the author has dared to say, “Yeah, but …” However, when an editor tells an author, “Thou shalt not use alright” or indicates to the author that the publisher requires a space on either side of the ellipses, or prefers “OK” to “okay,” continuing to do as thou wanteth, doth not make the editor happy.
  • Starting every sentence with a conjunction: I love conjunctions. They’re beautiful sitting in the midst of a sentence. I even like them at the beginning of sentences, but I like them only when they are used correctly. Little known fact: when a conjunction starts a sentence, a subject and predicate are still necessary. Okay. There is some poetic license given in this regard, but the key is to not over use it. Once per novel should suffice. Oh, and here’s another little known fact, or so it seems not well known: then is not a conjunction. A poetic license shall not be issued, at least from this editor. If the publishers would let me get away with it in my writing and in my editing, and then would be used. Many of the run-on sentences mentioned above actually should start with the word then.
  • Misplacing the modifier: While misplaced modifiers are often a source of comic relief for editors, the practice can wear on us after awhile. I laugh when I read something like, “Chopping the onions, her eyes teared up.” Can’t you just see the little arms on those eyes chopping away one moment and wiping the tears the next? The giggles stop if the modifiers continue to be misplaced.
  • Drop in a plot device only when it is needed: Oh, it’s perfectly okay to drop in a plot device, if it is placed in the story long before it is necessary. If Pauline’s on the railroad track, and she’s able to somehow dig out a knife from her pocket and cut the rope, the reader better have seen that knife dropped in her pocket at some time prior to the scene.
  • So far, the advice, while true, has been tongue-in-cheek and mostly for the authors who have honed their craft and, like me, continue to do certain things that annoy our editors. This next bit of advice should be taken quite seriously, and it is to the individual who believes that all there is to writing fiction is sitting down to the computer and plunking words and thoughts onto paper. That individual can be identified by an editor in the very first paragraph, and sometimes they might be spotted from line one. Writing is an art. Some elements of this special craft come easy, but I guarantee that no one picks up a pen on day one, story one, and masters the art without practice, much practice. Nothing drives the insanity  in an editor more than picking up the first draft of an individual who then delays the author from reviewing the work of truly talented, well-studied, serious authors waiting for their chance in the hard-fought world of publishing. In all truthfulness, nothing brings out my madness quicker than picking up a published novel (whether traditional or self-published) that harms the talented authors in much the same way.
    I would love to hear from editors about their own pet peeves or “thou shalt nots” and from authors who have learned what not to do to keep their editors happy and healthy and out of the asylum.

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Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.

Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelorand Unlikely Merger, which are now available in print or eBook as The Heart Seekers. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at


3 Responses Post a comment
  1. July 6, 2016

    Love this article. Especially the tongue in cheek humor. However, the points are clear. Thanks for the reminder that writing is an art and the first draft is never adequate. With me, yikes, my 16th self edit may arrive at the point where my editor will not have to return to the asylum.

  2. July 7, 2016

    Same goes with you, my favorite editor.

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