Note: In the original version of this post, the word vicious in the headline was misspelled as viscous. Given the topic of this post, and the snark at which I approach mistakes the reveal lack of intelligence, I will now quit my writing career and light myself on fire. My only defense is that as an oil salesman, I used the word viscous quite frequently.
If you want to know why my updates to this blog have been few and far between, read my latest from Creative Loafing for the tragically funny explanation.
Today I was deep into editing my next novel (something I’ve been doing… um… forever) and I got into an argument with my editor. Only, this argument occurred in the margins of Microsoft Word in the comments column. I had a witty retort for several of her observations. At one point, one of my characters gave a “sideways grin.” Her comment to this was, “What even is this?” Lest you think she typically speaks in such poor grammar, I assure you, she was just trying to show me how dumb the statement sounded. But I wasn’t going to take this lying down. My character was giving a sideways grin – and I was quite proud of the description.
With great determination, I confronted her via text. (After Googling “sideways grin” just to make sure it’s an actual phrase that people use and that I was, in fact, using it correctly.)
Me: You’ve never heard of a sideways grin?
Of course, for her there was no context to my question, because she’d made her comment three months ago while reviewing 200 pages of fiction. I waited eagerly for her response… hoping for embarrassed shame in not knowing this common, yet clever, use of phrase.
My editor: I believe that’s called a smirk.
Damn her. Because she’s usually right. But I hold the power in this situation and “sideways grin” stays, unequivocally. For this draft. (That is intentionally not the best use of ‘unequivocally’ – he wrote with a sideways grin.)
Editing is making me fragile. The other day I got an email from a reader – a fellow self-publisher – who found a word in my first book that has a homonym, which I had misused – three times. It was a true mistake – one I wasn’t even aware existed. I ran it by three smart people, and two of them were shaky on it, so I didn’t feel as bad. But it was a mistake, found by a reader, who took the time to tell me about it – in a nice, but stern way.
S0 now I’m looking for every revealing misstep. There are certain things in writing that reveal a person’s intelligence on a topic – or lack thereof. And I’m not talking about “there, their and they’re,” but more nuanced. Like a ship captain using the terms “right, left, front, back” instead of “starboard, port, bow and stern.” But often far more subtle. I was reading a book recently where the author’s character was cracking jokes / quasi insults, that simply weren’t funny. Not only, not funny, but revealingly stupid. Like when Trump thinks he has a comeback for … well everyone. I had to put the book down.
I write fast. And for that reason, I edit slow. Except blogs. I’ll re-read this once and hit “publish.”