Respect the Comma-Maker: On Editor-Writer Exchanges
By Chelsey Clammer
Eight. Eight is the number of emails I recently exchanged with a writer about a comma. One comma. By that eighth and final time I clicked “send,” though, lakes of slobber had saturated my desk because I was gushing over how we achieved to find that comma’s home—that place in a particular sentence where a well-placed comma creates the best possible poetic flow. Because whenever I, an editor, and an author together create a perfectly-placed caesura, watch a stellar chiasmus sprout, or accomplish some ass-kicking assonance I melt like a blow-torched Barbie.
By which I mean I get all giddy when an author and I geek out about hyphens and apostrophes. Our shared enthusiasm. Such adoration. Excitability.
Though you would think eight emails about a comma and other miniscule edits such as that could be tedious, could get all frustrating as it takes eight emails to agree on where to put one sentence’s speed bump. Okay. Yeah. Sometimes an extended exchange can feel ugh-inducing, but it’s never the debate about punctuation or word choice that is ugh, it’s that unnecessary action of being very stubborn.
This is where trust and respect come into our shared perfectionist terrain.
As in: Writers must trust the comma-reviser, and editors must respect the comma-maker. Writers, know that an editor totally gets how the comma is that one bit of breath in the vast canyon of letters and lines that live around it. Editors, know that a writer can also feel the beauty and importance of that slight suspended sigh and the rhythm that the subscript curve creates. Punctuation is not something we use, but it’s an experience. We geeked-out word nerds devoted to anything related to the written word know all about this.
We also know the potential volatile-ness of this situation.
Because on the other side of the fence of the land of trust and respect is the permeable property line of perspective. Both parties on their opposing sides of the barb wired fence will at some point believe I’m right and you’re wrong. From this, that line we draw can become a wailing wall where both parties come to lament on how you’re just not getting it.
This is when a writer can get annoyed with an editor’s minute edits, and when an editor might start rolling her eyes at the frequently re-chosen word choices. Find me on a tired day and get all demand-y about a comma and I’ll get all terse-sounding with some one-word emails. Get over it people. It’s just a fucking comma.
This is where the push and pull part comes in, those eventual, mutually agreed-upon revisions that were born from an intense game of tug-of-war or beer pong or volleyball or, more accurately, Red Rover.
Send them edits right over.
Because in the end, having heated, passionate discussions about punctuation is what we live for. You know this, writer, because it’s true to you, too.
Chelsey Clammer has been published in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, The Water~Stone Review and Black Warrior Review among many others. She is the Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown and Founding Editor of www.insideoutediting.com. Her first collection of essays, BodyHome, was released from Hopewell Publishing in Spring 2015. Her second collection of essays, There Is Nothing Else to See Here, is forthcoming from The Lit Pub, Summer 2015. You can read more of her writing at: www.chelseyclammer.com.