Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Stylebook in Your Head

As writers and editors, we are familiar with using stylebooks. AP Style Guide and Libel Manual, Chicago Manual of Style -- even the University of Minnesota has a stylebook.

It's my observation that the experienced writer and editor has a stylebook in her head. The J. Louise Larson Stylebook kicks in when I write, when I edit. The thing is, it is the sum of the work of a number of writers and editors:

David taught me to write for the ear. Jack rewarded me for finding interesting stuff and strong hooks. Bob told me it was okay to be unique. Paul taught me how to write a headline, how to edit for interest. Ray encouraged me to see the story in everyone. Neal let the creative in my flourish. Jackie G. demonstrated fabulous diplomacy. Char helped me be a stickler for detail.

The list goes on. Too short, too long, too flowery, too many dashes -- I love that one -- and so on. Don't do this. Do that MORE. Most of them let me be myself -- while fixing what needed fixed.

Occasionally, we have to write a certain way to please a certain editor or fit a certain publication -- but our own inner editor tells us that doesn't need to make it into our inner stylebook.

I stand on the shoulders of giants. We all do, to some extent.

The MasterCard commercial asks "What's in your wallet?"

I ask "Who's a contributing editor in your stylebook?"

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