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"Gratuitous meddling" is a good phrase. I wholly agree with the idea that editors should first "do no harm": it's the typographic oath!

Humility and experience lead an editor inevitably to a position of minimal interference (unless otherwise stipulated). Sometimes keeping my hands in the air isn't enough, though, and I have to sit on them.

Coincidentally, I was chatting earlier today about how red pens may prime us to be more critical. I wrote about this phenomenon here: http://stancarey.wordpress.com/2010/06/22/the-red-pen-effect/


I loved this line: "Once the tracking is turned on, you’re itching to leave some tracks." And immediately thought of the line you used at the end of the article: "Do no harm."

I believe if we can keep that latter thought uppermost, the itch won't be as intense.

Thanks for the reminder that "gratuitous [almost anything]" is not a good thing.

Charles Purdy

Thanks for a good reminder. Long ago and far away, I worked with a wise and patient copy chief who would not accept changes that couldn't be explained succinctly and well. (He refused to accept "it just reads better" edits, as writers will!)


Great reminder! I've had many discussions about the strong impulse to change copy, even when there's nothing "wrong" with it. (Charles, I love your colleague's policy!) I think a big part of that impulse stems from the desire to feel you've put your stamp on a work, that you've "done something" tangible.

I write and edit, so I've seen that play out from both angles. But it's so important to place the editorial process ahead of your itch to show *your* work. Editors of all types are there to offer checkpoints to ensure that the writing is in its best shape. Letting good work (and the author's voice) stand is just as important as making corrections.


Henri Rousseau was so excited (according to historian Yann Le Pichon) by what he saw at the 1907 Cezanne retrospective that he ran from painting to painting, and then exclaimed to his companion, "You know, I could finish them all!'


Yes! It took me too long to learn this. The key is remembering that it's not YOUR name on the byline.

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Carol Saller