Sunday, August 26, 2007


By Barbara Sharp Milbourn,
Write On! Staff Editor

The matchbook-cover advertising read, “Be a Commercial Artist – Send your Drawings Today.” I dreamed day and night of being a commercial artist wearing chic, colorful tailored suits and high heels while striding confidently about in my corner office overlooking the New York skyline. Clearly I had drawing talent. To prove it, I sent in my six best pencil works, all meticulously drawn on the backs of discarded envelopes while riding the bus to school. At age eight, never was a long time to wait for a response.

By adolescence, I abandoned that idea and fell in love with sales. Sales were sexy, production wasn’t. Then it was design. Form trumped function and all things creative still ruled.
In my thirties, out of school and entrenched in commercial real estate, I left my peers in Memphis to open and operate a Trammell Crow Company office in Baton Rouge. On Monday morning, the i’s needed dotting, the t’s crossing, and all of the bucks stopped on my desk. The experience wrestled me soundly to left brain land and held me there. Success would require doing things thoughtfully, thoroughly, correctly, and professionally within a specific set of rules and parameters.

Today I focus on the rules and parameters of writing. Right-brained writers need left-brained editors. My Gemini nature may swoon right to writing but my strength, like a divining rod, pulls left to editing. I am a word and language lover with hawk eyes on the hunt for error and weak prey. A red pencil is firmly attached to my right talon. I’m on a first name basis with The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition and Merriam Webster is my best friend. Reading while simultaneously examining spelling, word usage, punctuation, sentence structure, voice, continuity, and the whole copyediting and proofreading function thrills me.

Working electronically is more efficient but I also proof and edit manuscripts in hard copy. While proofreaders’ marks, underlines, circled comments, and author queries transform some of these to bloody battle scenes, the end result is a product closer to publication. Imagine a manuscript at a traditional publishing house (if it gets past a literary agent) making its way through an acquisition editor, production editor, copyeditor, typesetter, and four rounds of separate proofreading eyes before final print. Imagine the author attempting this perfection through grammar and spell check functions.

The author’s wild mind flies and weaves story with little thought to writing mechanics, the lack of which can make good work look slipshod. That’s where copyeditors and proofreaders come in—the unsung heroes who make the words and stories soar.

Barbara Milbourn is a full-time freelance writer with many years of experience in business writing, particularly in the field of commercial real estate. She serves as the staff editor for Write On! Creative Writing Services and as podcast interviewer for many of the Writers in the Sky shows.

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