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"Vigilante Copy Editor" Shows There's No "I" in Writing

Vigilante Copy Editor story_NYTimes_peoplewhowrite-2If ever there were a Quote of the Day, this is it: “Typo hunting must be done in the light, not in the shadow…”

The quote comes from author Jeff Deck in a piece in today’s New York Times in which filmmaker Jay Dockendorf reports that a “vigilante copy editor,” so discomfited by typos and grammatical errors, has been clandestinely editing placards in the sculpture park at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Technically, the magic-markered corrections are graffiti, but officially, they point to the frustrating, enthralling, communal character of the written word.

As every scribe knows, “saying it right” is easier spoken than written. And even more curious is no matter how many eyes lint-pick a text, one error always manages to escape, reminding us of the fallibility at the core of us all.

The vigilante copy editor also challenges the myth that writing is a solitary profession. Yes, we mostly write alone, but once we put it on the page, screen, or placard–and often before we do–a community of editors, critics, and readers gets the last word. Whether they share it publicly in reviews, or furtively like the rogue literary vandal of the Times piece, what’s exciting about the written word is the conversation it sparks.

Unlike a verbal conversation that’s helped along with inflection, facial expression, and body language, we process the written word with our own voice mingled with our approximation of the writer’s voice. We’re in our heads, but we’re not alone as we conjure images and match them with memories; comparing, and sometimes incorporating, the writer’s truth with our own. And sometimes we’ve got a red pen in hand, mentally or literally, editing.

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