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Making It Better

Richard Lehnert, Stereophile copyeditor for the last 34 years, is calling it quits. He wrote a short reflection at the magazine’s website, and it’s worth a read – even if you’re not that into hi-fi components or misplaced modifiers. (Though, to be honest, I can’t imagine who wouldn’t be.)

Here’s Lehnert on voice:

We like to think, or at least we like to say, that each writer’s voice is unique, but it isn’t. Too often, what a writer most fondly feels is his unique voice is actually a combination of bad habits and received language and tones shared with all too many other not-very-good writers. The inspired copyeditor’s task is to bend an ear finely tuned to hearing the least hint of unique music in a writer’s voice, strip away the accretions of junk language and tone picked up in a life drenched in TV and marketing and promotional copy and political obfuscation and bureaucratese, and then revise, even rewrite the piece in whatever authentic voice remains. The job is to produce a final edited article written in the writer’s own voice, but in language and tone more consistently and authentically the writer’s very own than that writer can produce herself or himself.

Reminds me of the complicated relationship between Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish.

And while Lehnert agrees that a writer shouldn’t condescend to the least-informed reader, he also makes a quite reasonable case for not insulting the more intelligent: “No, most readers won’t notice or care about an absence of dangling modifiers, or the presence or absence of the serial comma, or a careful deployment of close punctuation—but why offend those who will? Truly excellent writing will please both types of reader. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. It never is.”



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