A different kind of math

Surprisingly — to me at least — there are a couple of things in math I’m actually good at. Logs and algebra in particular were actually enjoyable for me, though there were other units, like circle geometry, that confused the heck out of me.

I understand though why some people like math — there’s always a set formula, there’s always a right answer. On that note, I also really liked chemistry, though the moment a friend turned to me during a spare period and said, “Do you understand what’s going on with the equilibrium unit?” was one of the best moments ever, because that was my worst chem section, and no, I didn’t have a clue.

Anyways, in that right-wrong, black-white sense, editing is my math.

I realize it’s not quite as cut and dried as math — you still have to recognize the writer’s style and voice, and make sure that it’s still there at the end of the day. But there is a right way and a wrong way to use they’re, their and there, and a right time and a wrong time to use “surmise.”

However, I saw this quote on Twitter today, and as crazy as I can be about following some of the styleguide and grammar rules (I kid you not, it physically hurts me when I see someone trying to pluralize something with ‘s), it made a lot of sense to me.

“Do not let rules of rhetoric and style stand in the way of clearness, cheerfully break any … of them rather than be obscure.” — F.T. Cooper.

For the most part, I think CP Style is pretty good about being clear — it walks the fine line of being clear but at the same time, keeps in mind newspapers have limited space, so km for kilometre(s) on second reference is OK. (But abbreviations like B.C. and U.S. should be spelled out when not used adjectivally, so there goes all that saved space.) And yes, if you’re wondering, I’m quoting these from memory. It’s easier to remember them than try to decipher the stylebook every time, because while CP is good at creating rules to make writing clear, sometimes the rules themselves aren’t written very clearly.

I think I’m pretty good about being fair to everyone I edit or have ever edited; I’m not harder on one person than I am on another, though if I know a person is prone to certain errors, I’ll definitely go after those — the best way you can tell someone is driving me up the wall with their writing is when I let out one frustrated “Aggh.” And then continue editing patiently.

Editing is not for everyone. I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that there will always be good writers who need a really good editor behind them. But as up the wall as it may sometimes drive me, a good cup of coffee (or five) will mellow me out enough usually that I can get through the piece.

(Edited, Jan. 18, 2012, for content)

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