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Writers vs. Editors – Cage Fight for the Centuries

on October 17, 2011 by Mike in Proofreading and Editing facebook in twitter

Since the first editor suggested a writer choose a more precise word, since the first proofreader deleted a redundancy, writers and those who would help them have been engaged in a boisterous battle for truth, justice, and the final word. Why? Because writing is an act of ego, and there are no rules. Really. I wouldn’t lie.

Some proofreaders and editors like to think there are rules, rigid rules, rules that transcend life itself. But no matter how earnest and well-meaning these folks are, they remain earnestly wrong. There is only one rule for writers, and author Mildred I. Reid phrased it as well as anyone: “The only rule for effective writing is: Does it work?”

Sorry, but that’s it. Now we know the folks who conjure up the styles for APA, MLA, Chicago, the Associated Press, the New York Times Stylebook, the Blue Book, ad infinitum, sincerely disagree. And this is exactly what brings writers and editors into caged conflict. This is what breaks the spirit of the most ardent wordsmith. This is what leaves even the genial gurus of ProofreadingPal with ulcers.

Even though Reid is right, reality creeps in and slaps us with rule after rule after rule. And those rules themselves change and are often contradictory. MLA says one space between sentences. APA now decrees two. Is there a comma between the year and the page number in an in-text citation? Depends on who – or should it be whom – you ask.

We have the sixth edition and the 16th – or should it be sixteenth – of various styles. Clearly, the “rules” themselves are not immutable. What was wrong yesterday can be correct tomorrow. And since that’s true, how important are all of these “rules”? If the Ten Commandments were revised every few years, would they really be commandments?

And so the cage battle rages between writers and editors on a myriad of fronts, the various academic style formats being only one. There are many general grammar rules that some folks love to dictate as well. But here’s a bumper sticker to ponder: “Gravity is the law. Grammar is a suggestion.”

Writing is a free, creative act. But stylebooks and format requirements and grammar rules attempt to force writers behind bars. “You can’t do that!” the editor or proofreader opines as the keys to the writer’s cell dangle menacingly from our bony fingers. Yet without writers, there is nothing to edit or proofread. There is only the void. Vast emptiness. And so the battle rages.

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