Back in 2009, when my byline still matched my maiden name, I wrote a brief review of The Subversive Copy Editor, by Carol Fisher Saller, for the NYT’s old book blog, Paper Cuts (RIP). Now, Saller is back with a revised, slightly thicker edition that includes updated references, a couple of additional chapters, and an expansion of the chapter geared toward writers—should they be wise enough to pick up the book for themselves.
The writers’ chapter offers some excellent tips for self-editing, such as these on things writers often miss:
• Throat-clearing. Writer Richard Peck claims that when he finishes a novel, he throws out the first chapter without reading it and writes it anew. He reasons that when we begin a work, we’re rarely certain of where it will end. Revisiting the beginning after the end has emerged makes sense. This time it will be easier to eliminate unneeded windup verbiage.
• Personal tics. Most writers have a few pet words or phrases: decidedly, or by no means, or incredibly, or most important.* Ditto for favorite sentence constructions: “Not only X but Y” is popular. Once you identify your own foibles, they become more difficult to ignore.
* For the record, my biggest tic is the overuse of just—followed by an overreliance on em dashes. (See?)
I was immediately charmed by this book the first time I read it and continue to recommend it to anyone who asks, What are some good books on editing? Full disclosure: Since moving to Chicago I have had the pleasure of meeting Saller in the flesh. (Can you imagine? It’s like groupie : David Bowie :: copy editor : Carol Fisher Saller.) But even had I not met her, I’d still be pushing The Subversive Copy Editor on all the editors I know. What I said about the book last time remains true: