Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Dear Mr Brown

Explain yourself, Sir.

"As well intentioned as they may be, moms do not make the best copy editors."

I'm a mom and a copy editor. I was a copy editor — a damn good one — before I ever considered taking on motherhood.

I'm still a damn good copy editor. Better than ever, in fact.

In addition to all that hokum about how being a mom has made me a better person, I've learned a little something about time management, multitasking, and prioritizing. Sure. These are things any mom can take to the office with her.

But here's the copyediting-specific value-added stuff:

I now notice details 24/7. I was always good — that's why I started copyediting in the first place. But now it's second nature. I'm tuned in to inconsistencies, whether it be in the chapter I'm working on or across a publisher's output, in my daughter's appetite from one day to the next or in her poo. I can pinpoint changes in flash, whether it's a wording an author neglected to mention or a minute swelling that indicates a new tooth.

I can better qualify those details. I can automatically adjust my focus from the details to the big picture, from the trees to the forest, and I know instinctively which ones matter. Yes, I've always had that instinct, too — part of what made me such a fine copyeditor — but motherhood has honed it. I've sorted the non-serious fever from the tiny rash that needed attention. I know when to leave an author's voice alone and how to use gentle persuasion to make it better. I know when to identify issues for someone else to make a decision.

Working from home with children underfoot can be problematic logistically and full of distractions. But these problems are not specific to moms or to copy editors. Copyediting does hinge on those details, though, whose oversight may not be noticed so much in other professions. All employers out there really should pay much closer attention to the final product of those people who telecommute, particularly if they're contractors who charge by the hour.

I generally ensure that my daughter is being cared for elsewhere when I'm getting down to work.

Being a mom in no way in itself qualifies one to be a copyeditor. (Neither should copyediting be the task of students who work for low pay or of administrative assistants who are not trained in wordsmithery.) But it sure don't hurt.

Intentions do not a copy editor make. Nor do they make accountants, teachers, dentists, or firefighters. Only skill and training can do that. Perhaps to be a publisher intentions are enough.

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