Elevate excellence.

Clearing Blocks offers comprehensive editing services and creative content development. I’ll correct your grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. I’ll help you reorganize your project so that it reaches your target audience in a persuasive, engaging fashion. I’ll work with you on word choice and on establishing a clear, consistent voice. I’ll even offer blunt, constructive criticism that will help you elevate your project and perfect your craft.

Editing is a collaborative teaching and learning process. My goal is to provide services that will not only help you with your current project but also will help carry you through your future endeavors. If you’re ready to revamp your manuscript and fully realize your creative potential, contact me, or check out my services to learn more. The below articles can help you get started.

Understanding Your Redlined Manuscript Using Microsoft Word’s Track Changes

You just received your edited manuscript. This is an awesome development, but it’s…well, it’s a mess. There’s red ink everywhere—electronic or otherwise. How do you sift through the sea of changes?

Let’s talk about the format. If you’re looking at an edited hard copy of your manuscript, congratulations—you’re holding a rare bird. Your editor (hopefully) wrote out clear, concise comments and suggestions in the margins, and errors will have been corrected using copyediting shorthand

But it’s more likely that your manuscript was edited electronically using Microsoft Word. Depending on your experience with Word, your manuscript may be manageable. But if you haven’t explored the glories of the “Review” tab, keep reading for the basics.

Getting Started

First thing’s first: make sure you save a working copy of your manuscript so that you always have the file your editor returned to you. After that, save early, and save often. That way, if you make a mistake, you can always go back to a previous version. For purposes of this discussion, examples will be shown using the latest version of Microsoft Word.

Reviewing the manuscript

Before you dive into the marked changes, read through the manuscript with the changes hidden. Go to the “Review” tab and find the “Tracking” section. At the top, there’s a drop-down menu with four options: Simple Markup, All Markup, No Markup, and Original. Select “Simple Markup” and make sure that “Show Comments” is toggled on.

simple markup

This will let you review the manuscript without getting tripped up on the tracked changes. You’ll be able to see most, but not all comments, and a red bar will appear on the side of the page where a change was made.

simple markup

By default, revisions in a redlined document are denoted by underlined text (changes) or strikethroughs (deletions). Depending on your settings, moved text may be underlined twice (and is often set in a color other than red). 

Now that the manuscript is a little easier to read, review with new eyes, and make notes or jot down any questions you have. Keep an eye on those comments, too. Your editor may not have changed a section of text, but she could have offered suggested changes in a query.

Understanding your options
You’re going to spend a lot of time with the “Review” tab in Microsoft Word, especially in the “Comments,” “Tracking,” and “Changes” sections.review tab

If you’re interested in seeing your original text, select “Original” from the “Tracking” drop-down menu instead.

original text

Toggling “All Markup” will reveal all the hidden changes and comments for you to review.

all markup

You also can narrow down what you’d like to see by clicking on the “Show Markup” drop-down menu. As an example, you can click on “Formatting” to remove the checkmark. That way you won’t see any incidental formatting changes when you’re trying to focus on the text. 

show markup

Accepting and rejecting

Once you’re ready to dig in and make changes, go to the “Review” tab and find the markup drop-down menu. Select “All Markup.” All the insertions, deletions, and comments will show up—even the comments that were tied to deleted material. Review them carefully!

accept and move to next

You can move between each change by using the “Previous” and the “Next” arrows. To specifically address each change, you can use the “Accept and Move to Next” to accept a change and move on, or you can use the “Reject and Move to Next” to reject a change and move on.

Making the most of comments

Knowing how to move quickly and easily between comments can make your manuscript easier to handle, which is why you should get cozy with the “Comments” section under the “Review” tab.

show comments

You can also interact with comments by right clicking on them. The comment drop-down menu gives you a plethora of options. 

interact with comments

You can reply to a comment—helpful if you’re trying to make a note or if you’re going back and forth with your editor—or mark it as complete once you’ve addressed the issue therein.

The final pass
Think you have a clean document? It's best to check. If you’re not sure if there are any comments or changes you may have left behind, go to “File” and select “Inspect Document.” 

inspect document
Make sure you check the box for “Comments, Revisions, Versions and Annotations." 

document inspector

Word will let you know if there's anything left behind that you should address. 

review the inspection results

Happy editing!

Why Freelance Editors Decline Manuscripts

It’s one thing to receive a rejection from an agent or a publishing house—few writers win the publishing lottery immediately. Your prospective agent may have hit their quota for urban robot romance, or maybe they’re just not buying what you’re selling.[i]

But rejection from a freelance editor can feel worse: what does it say about your book if someone won’t even read it for money?

Relax. The first thing you need to do is separate your ego from your manuscript. The editor who declined your work (probably) isn’t trying to crush your spirit; rather, they’re sending you an important message:

There’s still work to be done.

An honest editor will tell you if your manuscript isn’t ready for a professional editing process, and you should thank them for doing so. They’re alerting you to an opportunity to make your work better before you open your wallet. (After all, editing is a costly process, and it helps to know what you need.) This also means the editor is invested in seeing you generate your best work.

But a plethora of reasons exist for why a freelance editor might decline your manuscript. Me? I can break it down into four categories.

1) The manuscript reads like a first draft.

The narrative might be obfuscated or absent entirely. Characters are two-dimensional or fall prey to boring stereotypes. Perhaps the tense shifts constantly, or the dialogue consistently feels fake or forced. The point-of-view may not properly serve the narrative, or maybe the narrator spends too much time telling rather than showing. There may be widespread grammatical or typographical errors. And while a copy editor’s job is indeed to correct mistakes, an epidemic of errors often signals a narrative in its infancy.

I generally compose a detailed letter explaining my concerns, along with suggestions and examples that should lead to constructive next steps. Remember: First drafts are half-formed beasts that still have the potential to metamorphose dramatically. Embrace them.

2) The manuscript is incomplete.

It’s normal to have areas of concern, and there may be incompletions you can’t foresee. You know the story because it’s in your head, which makes it difficult to identify points of confusion or plot holes. But if your manuscript contains placeholder text or brackets that say [Insert Scene Here], it’s not ready for an editor.[ii] Think about your manuscript as a body: you need to create the skeleton, layer it with meat, and stretch some semblance of skin over it. And you really don't want someone fiddling with makeup when you’re going to pull the bones apart again.

The bottom line is that your editor is not a ghostwriter. If I foresee the need to significantly rewrite large swathes of the manuscript to make it interesting or readable, it’s not ready for my pen. My job is to help you shape, fire, and temper your work—not create it whole cloth. 

3) The writer has unrealistic expectations.

I want to understand your goals; they help me accurately examine and revise your work. And at the basest level, they help me establish an editing schedule and protocol. But sometimes I receive requests I know I won’t be able to fulfill (nor should I). Your self-published indie novel probably won’t make it to the NYT Best Sellers’ list, even with my help. I also will not be able to line edit a 150,000-word novel in a single week.

Most importantly, I’m not going to finish your book for you. When you hire an editor, your work isn’t finished. Once you receive an edited manuscript, it’s your job to review the suggested changes and revise accordingly. This may be a substantial amount of work. If I suspect you aren’t willing to invest the time to polish your project, I’ll probably decline. Adjust your expectations.

4) The manuscript’s just not my jam.

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I’m offered work that doesn’t align with my values or my expertise. For the most part, this isn’t the writer’s fault: I like what I like. I won’t edit some nonfiction, particularly if it’s a thesis or dissertation—there are plenty of editors who specialize in academia. I also won’t edit religious works, and I actively avoid manuscripts that espouse hate, however inadvertently (e.g., racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, sexism, etc.), or perpetuate harmful tropes. You may just need to shop your manuscript to a different editor. And, if I know who’d be a better fit, I won’t hesitate to recommend you to them.  

Rejection isn’t a terminal diagnosis—it’s an opportunity for improvement. If you want to boost your self-editing skills, plenty of resources exist. Here are a few of my long-form favorites:

  • Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King
  • The Little Book of Self-Editing for Writers by Bridget McKenna

You also should consider finding a critique group—online or in person—or engage beta readers to gain critical third-party feedback.

Don’t give up. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And don’t ever stop writing.





[i] Though it rather goes without saying that you should do your research: don’t query editors or agents who aren’t representing your target market.

[ii] The exception, of course, is if you’re hiring a developmental editor to shape your story.



What’s a “Reasonable” Rate?

When I quote on a project, I prefer to offer a total package price. It’s easier for me, and it reduces surprise fees for the writer. That’s why a large part of my quote is based on word count. However, I find that it’s easier to explain costs in terms of hourly fees. How come? Writers—and other project managers—don’t always understand how many work hours their project comprises.

Here’s a great example. A proofreading job for an 80,000-word vampire romance novel recently hit my inbox. Eighty-thousand words equals approximately 320 manuscript pages.[i] Assuming I could thoroughly proof twenty manuscript pages per hour,[ii] that’d be a solid sixteen hours of work. The projected budget? Sixty dollars. That’s $3.75 an hour. A more accurate low-end hourly rate for that project would have been $25 per hour, for a total project price of $400. Seems like a pretty profound disconnect, right?

This living wage conundrum is also why charging on a per-word basis falls apart for smaller projects. I frequently receive requests to line edit articles for publication or submission. I love this type of work: it’s short, varied, and there’s plenty of room for movement. (Writers seem more amenable to overhauling 1,500-word articles than they do 100,000-word novels. Go figure!) But each of these smaller projects takes at least an hour to complete.

What’s a “reasonable” per-hour rate for line editing? Sources differ, and prices vary by market.[iii] The Editorial Freelancers Association suggests a low-end rate of $40. But many posters on freelance boards are only willing to pay $15. “Reasonable,” here, seems to be the sticking point.

I get it—many indie writers seeking editors don’t want to shell out thousands of dollars for professional editing, even if they want a marketable book. It’s a high initial cost. Writers need to make the best choices based on their budgets and writing goals. Talk to the editor! Ask how long it takes them to read and perform specific services. Do the math!

Just remember—sometimes you really get what you pay for.

[i] A manuscript page is a double-spaced page with 250 words. This is a firm industry standard.

[ii] Which, honestly, could be a stretch.

[iii] Would you charge an independent author the same hourly rate as a corporate or government entity? Similarly, the hourly rate for technical material will be higher than the hourly rate for editing fiction; it’s a matter of time and complexity.

Ask an Editor: Should You Use the Same Editor for a Second Read?

If you make changes to an already edited and proofed piece, is it a good idea to go to a different editor for a final/second round of edits for the fresh eyes, or is it better to stick with someone who knows the work?

It depends! How important is continuity to you? Smaller projects—essays, chapbooks, business proposals, articles, or blogs—generally don’t require large mental investments on the part of the editor. However, if you’re working on a manuscript, anthology, or series of books, you’ll likely benefit sticking with the editor who’s familiar with your content, characters, and voice. (Assuming you had a positive experience with your first-round editor, of course.) Your original editor can spend less time reading and digesting the world and more time troubleshooting revised sections. And most editors—and I include myself here—are invested in their writers’ works. They want to guide the project to publication, and they’ll work hard to get it there.

A new copy editor must start from scratch, which can be costly. You’ll be paying them to read, reread, and scrutinize the manuscript in its entirety. This can be awesome—your new editor may approach your manuscript in a wholly different way, giving you new perspective and advice to consider. They’ll probably even catch a few mistakes your original editor missed. (We’re not perfect, after all.) On the other hand, you may not want another serious line edit, especially if you’re not interested in an additional rewrite. You can give five editors the same initial paragraph and end up with five completely different (and completely okay) generated objects.

Finally, consider the scope of your changes. My discussion above applies to substantive revisions—items for which you’d normally engage a line or developmental editor. If you’re just looking for someone to correct grammar, formatting, and minor typographical errors, fresh eyes are fabulous. Let’s be real: you’re less likely to catch minor errors when you’re reading something over and over. I’m not immune to this phenomenon. When I finish editing an item at my day job (which is in a particularly litigious industry), I immediately send it to someone who’s never read it for proofing. Sometimes many people will proof it, further reducing error incidence. You can apply the same approach to your own work.

Hope that helps!

Ask an Editor: Teaching Engineers, Content Editing, and Typos

Why is my supervisor asking me to teach the other engineers how to write?

It’s a compliment! I’m guessing your supervisor recognizes you’re an effective communicator and that your touch translates to quality. Still curious? There’s no reason you can’t ask your supervisor to explain why your style works. When it comes to teaching, though, it may not be worth your or your engineers’ time; most engineers aren’t hired with the expectation they’ll be great writers.

But before you tell your supervisor what is or isn’t in your job description, consider:

  • First and foremost, is the engineering team ready and willing to learn?
  • Do you feel comfortable and qualified to teach your teammates? (If not, there are plenty of webinars and freelancers who offer basic writing and editing courses, including me!)[i]
  • Would teaching basic business writing principles in one or two lunch-and-learn sessions hamper your productivity? (And if not, would teaching be an opportunity to add value and bolster your own position in the company?)
  • Do you already have a communications specialist on staff? (If so, see if this individual can provide assistance.)
  • Is this a one-off request, or is your supervisor considering shifting your job responsibilities? (If the former, give it some thought; it could be an opportunity to display leadership skills. If the latter, it’s time to have a serious discussion with your supervisor.)

Regardless, if your team is responsible for reporting or documentation, consider hiring a technical writer or copyeditor who specializes in your field. Many technical writers work on a contract-by-contract basis, which means your company can opt for a hired gun rather than a full-time employee. Having an as-needed expert can give your team time to focus on more important issues.

Clear and effective communication is crucial, particularly if you have a brand to protect. (Trust me; everyone remembers when you make a big public mistake.) Delivering messages the wrong way can estrange current and potential clients or negatively impact your bottom line. But in some industries—maybe yours—poor writing and obfuscated language can get people hurt.

How do you develop an eye for editing content, not just mechanical errors?

Everyone’s a critic, right? Most of us know when a story is unsatisfying—the key is pinning down the whys. Encourage and engage your critical instincts whenever you consume media by asking questions (I’ve pulled a few directly from my beta reader questionnaire):

  • Do all characters seem well rounded and fully realized?
  • Does the cast of characters represent a diverse audience?
  • Do any characters fall victim to boring or problematic clichés?
  • Are there locations where the story drags or moves too quickly?
  • Are plot twists predictable?
  • Is backstory distributed in ways that keep the story moving forward?
  • Does dialogue seem conversational or forced?
  • Does the setting ground the narrative effectively?
  • Are there loose ends or plot holes not addressed by the conclusion of the story?
  • Does the story fall prey to genre tropes, or does it offer a fresh perspective?

Hopefully you’ll find the answers to those questions spawn new lines of inquiry. But most importantly, read voraciously. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on, regardless of genre. Move outside your literary comfort zone. The more you’re exposed to story, the more you’ll be able to recognize what does and doesn’t work. 

What’s the funniest typo you’ve ever seen?

Oh, dear. I’ve seen so many inadvertently hilarious typos I’m not sure I can pinpoint the funniest—or most tragic. (And let’s be real: We’ve all read listicles promising the Top Ten Worst Typos Ever!!!) But back when I worked for a dental insurance company, a co-writer and I were dealing with a monster project Sales had held up, leaving us scrambling to meet a client-enforced deadline. A few days later we received an email from the Sales team thanking us for our “patients.” We’d been so stressed out we just exploded into laughter.

Feel free to share your own in the comments section—I’m sure we all could use a laugh!


[i] I’ll be offering writing and editing courses and coaching sessions soon. If you’re interested, let me know!

The Importance and Limitations of Beta Readers

So you’re feeling good about your current draft. It’s shiny, you’ve corrected the most glaring goofs, and you’re ready to move forward. But before you make any big decisions, consider farming out to beta readers. A great beta reader can give you an early preview of how your intended audience might react to and evaluate your work. They can highlight plot holes, flag confusing passages, or offer opinions on your characters. Importantly, they’ll also tell you whether or not your story’s good. If you’re planning on self-publishing, beta readers are extra important. You can drop thousands of dollars on a brilliant editor, but if your core story is weak, you’ll end up with an expertly crafted manuscript no one wants to read. 

How do I find a qualified beta reader?

A beta reader’s credentials need only include a love of reading. (It is, however, helpful if your reader is familiar with books or tropes from your genre.) You can source willing readers from social media, Goodreads, writers’ forums, Scribophile, Wattpad, e-mail lists, workshops, or critique groups. And while there’s nothing wrong with sourcing from friends and family, remember they may be less willing to critically engage with your work. Think about it: do you want to tell your best friend (or your Uncle) that their work is terrible? Be wise.

Keep in mind that while you may have great luck exchanging work with another writer, you stand to gain more by sending your draft to multiple people. Why?

  • Someone will bail. You’ll probably find this out right when you’re expecting to receive feedback. Don’t get mad—the reality is you’re asking people to do you a favor, one for which they’re not getting compensated.[i] If you have more than a scant handful of readers, you’re more likely to end up with at least a few folks who follow up.
  • Statistical relevance (sort of). If a preponderance of people find something problematic in your work, whether it’s a character, a chapter, or the way you use a word, it’s worth looking into. It’s easier to write off one person’s opinion, but lots of similar feedback may prompt you to address the root issue.
  • Diversity. It’s not just about the number of people to whom you send your work—it’s about the type of people. Forgo the echo chamber and seek individuals with backgrounds that differ from yours. An underrepresented reader (e.g., a woman, someone differently abled, or a person of color) may give you nuanced feedback you didn’t know you needed.
  • Uh-Oh Sensor. This piggybacks on “Diversity.” If any of your readers point out cultural appropriation or something racist, misogynistic, transphobic, or equally offensive, do not discount their input. Do not get defensive. Do not lambaste them for being too sensitive. If one reader catches a whiff of a problem, chances are good someone else will, too. We all make mistakes, even if we’re not trying to be hurtful. 

“But,” you might say, “what about plagiarism? What if my beta reader steals my ideas?” It’s possible, though unlikely. (Presumably, you know these people.) You can add a copyright page at the beginning of your manuscript, if it’ll make you feel better. However, if you’re truly worried about copy thievery, consider drafting a brief nondisclosure agreement or copyright acknowledgment for the reader to sign electronically. Balance casting a wide net with choosing your readers judiciously.

If I have beta readers, I don’t need an editor.

Wrong. While beta readers will provide you with valuable feedback, most aren’t professionally trained as editors, copyeditors, or proofreaders. It’s not your beta readers’ job to hunt down typos or provide chapter-level, paragraph-level, or sentence-level revisions. They will, however, tell you if your story is—or isn’t—working, and help you nail down the narrative. Your editor’s job is helping shape the language supporting that narrative, and keeping it free from distracting or damaging errors. (The exception of course, is when you hire a developmental editor, who is invested in helping you shape the story from beginning to end.) Both beta readers and editors perform valuable functions: If your story is fundamentally flawed, a copyeditor won’t be able to save it; if your core idea is fabulous, but the writing is terrible, you’re not going to have an audience.

How do I get feedback that will really help me?

Some writers avoid beta readers because they don’t receive helpful feedback.[ii] You’re responsible for directing responses. To get better feedback, try including a simple questionnaire with your work. The questions should guide—not lead—your readers, and should ask them to think critically about what did or didn’t work without suggesting an answer. Don’t ask your readers to look for things you think might be problematic. If you’re worried about too many “yes” or “no” responses, add direction (e.g., please elaborate, cite examples, why?, or mark the manuscript). You can download a sample sheet of questions here.

Want to make it easier for your readers? Ask them to respond using a rating system (e.g., one to five, strongly disagree to greatly disagree, least interesting to most interesting, etc.), and format the questionnaire using Google Forms or SurveyMonkey. You’ll lose some of the personal commentary in the process, but you’ll gain collated results that give you general idea of what is or isn’t working.

What do I do with the feedback?

Read it! Evaluate the feedback with an open heart and mind, and make revisions accordingly. Remember: Critical feedback isn’t a negative reflection of your person, and it will only help you become a better writer. Be gracious, and remind yourself that your initial idea may not match your generated object—and that’s okay.

Alright. What do I send?

Ready? Here’s what you should send your beta readers in the initial packet.

  • A polished draft. You don’t need to send a perfectly copyedited draft, but it shouldn’t be something you dashed off without self-editing.
  • Multiple file formats. Did your readers indicate a file preference? Ask! Your readers may prefer a PDF over a Word document—or something else entirely. Make it convenient for them, and make sure you label each file clearly with your title, name, and the stage of revision (e.g., Explosion Kapow_Jane Smith_Draft 2). If you expect your readers to add in-line comments, send a locked Word document. You can turn on editing restrictions by going to Review, Restrict Editing, checking the “Allow only this type of editing in the document” box, and selecting “Tracked Changes” from the drop-down menu. (Then click “Yes, Start Enforcing Protection.”)
  • A feedback questionnaire (or at least a little direction). Send the questionnaire with your chapter or manuscript! This encourages your readers to keep specific questions in mind as they’re reading, and may help you avoid highly generalized feedback: “Yeah, I liked it,” “It was okay, I guess,” or “The characters were cool.”
  • A deadline. It’s hard setting deadlines for someone doing you a favor, but you need to know when you’ll receive feedback (or when you should stop anticipating it). Settle on a mutually acceptable deadline—say, a month out—before you send anything, and then include a reminder when you e-mail your draft.
  • A thank you. Make sure you include an acknowledgment thanking them for their time and consideration. Everyone wants to feel appreciated!

How can I thank my readers?

A little gratitude goes a long way. If your beta pool largely comprises writers, offer to read their work when it’s ready. You also can include a shout-out in your book’s acknowledgement section, or send a small token of appreciation (e.g., $5 coffee card or copy of the published book).

How do you interact with your beta readers?



[i] Unless, of course, they are getting compensated.

[ii] More accurately, writers aren’t asking the right type of questions.


Ask An Editor: Kitty, Catty, Cater?

Kitty-corner/catty-corner. I know it’s regional. But a story I edited a few nights ago had cater-corner. Which is best?

First, a disclaimer: I am neither a linguist nor a lexicographer—I’m just an editor who likes to understand where words come from and how best to use them. The short answer about kitty-cornered, cater-cornered, and catty-cornered is that they’re all correct, but you’ll find preference varies regionally. (Check out The Harvard University Press article highlighting Joshua Katz’s regional dialect variations. I’m square in “kitty-cornered” land.) The Dictionary of American Regional English lists a few more regional idiosyncrasies:

  • kittering
  • kitty-cross
  • kitty-wampus
  • kitty-katty
  • catacornered

But where does the phrase come from, and how did it mutate?

According to Garner, cater-corner originates from the Middle English catre-cornered, which means “four-cornered.” Catre, of course, is derived from the Latin word, quattor, and later the French word, quatre, for “four.” This idea was proposed in the 19th century, and is widely accepted by most dictionaries and usage guides. (For what it’s worth, Merriam-Webster agrees.) If we dig a little deeper, we find cater has a more complicated history. How did “four-cornered” become synonymous with “diagonal”?

In An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology, Anatoly Liberman suggests modern usage of cater may be traced to an Old Danish word, kejte, or Swedish word, kaitu, instead. Both words refer to the left hand. In less enlightened times, the left side of the body often was associated with crookedness, evil, or weakness.[i] Liberman also connects those words to the Old Irish cittach, which means “left handed; awkward.” These words could have influenced the first 16th century attested usage of cater as a Middle-English verb meaning, “to place diagonally.”

Regardless of whether it’s derived from catre or kaitu, “cater-cornered” is the dictionary-preferred variation. The kitty-, catty-, or even kiddy-cornered variations (probably) arrived via folk etymology. If you’re unfamiliar, folk etymology is the process of transforming unfamiliar words into words with which the speaker has a relationship. Cater (unfamiliar) was gradually replaced by catty and kitty (familiar), which also benefit by having similar mouth sounds. They really took off, too. The widespread usage of catty- and kitty-cornered has kept them off the eggcorn list.[ii] 

Query wisely: your writer is probably using the variation they know best.


[i] Consider the Latin adjective, sinistrum, which meant “left,” but eventually acquired negative connotations (see the English sinister). Parallels exist in multiple languages. 

[ii] A phrase that is substituted with a similar-sounding phrase. An oronym. Think “egg corn” instead of “acorn,” “rod iron” instead of “wrought iron,” “card shark” instead of “card sharp,” or “to be pacific” instead of “to be specific.” These tend to be regional, too. 

Ask an Editor: Punctuation with Parentheses

Every Friday I plan on answering a writing or editing question I've received via social media—or submission on this site. Today's topic? Those lovely curvy marks known as parentheses. 

Can you provide a refresher on how to handle punctuation with parentheses?

Sure thing! Parentheses function like a stronger pair of commas—or em dashes—and set off material from the surrounding text. It’s a way of creating an intensely visual amplification or aside. (You know, a whisper to the reader.) As a general rule, consider whether the punctuation belongs to the parenthetical matter or to the actual sentence:

  1. I made it to happy hour ($3 craft beer drafts!), but I missed the appetizers.
  2. It was colder, snowier, and pierogier. (Is that a word? It should be.)
  3. My cat ate a giant centipede (and left a big pile of legs behind).

If the punctuation mark belongs to the surrounding sentence, it goes outside the parentheses. In example one the comma separates two independent clauses at the conjunction. Because the first independent clause ends after the parenthetical matter, the comma follows the closing parenthesis. Example one also contains punctuation that belongs to the parenthetical matter. The exclamation point clearly belongs to the “$3 craft beer drafts!” statement, which means it needs to go inside the parentheses. Exclamation points and question marks are acceptable in mid-sentence parenthetical matter, but periods are not.

If an entire sentence is enclosed in parentheses and isn’t sitting in the middle of a nonparenthetical sentence (example two), a period precedes the closing parenthesis. However, when a parenthetical statement occurs at the end of a sentence (example three), the period follows the closing parenthesis.

When it comes to colons and semicolons, both can go inside parentheses to perform their respective functions; they just can’t precede the closing parenthesis. They shouldn’t precede an opening parenthesis either, unless parentheses are being used for enumeration:

She told her students to pack the following items: (1) a romance novel, (2) hiking boots and wool socks, (3) a light jacket and clothes for three days, and (4) a single book of matches. (Weird, right?)

Have something to ask the editor? Submit a question in the comments below!

I left my heart in ACES2015

It’s 9:00 a.m., and I’m standing on a corner where two empty streets intersect. It’s clear and sunny, but the wind gnaws at the exposed skin below the knot of my scarf, and my hands are warmed only by a cup of coffee.

There’s no hustle. Walk signals and stoplights cycle endlessly for non-existent traffic. A coal barge idles under a bridge. Even I remain motionless.

After a moment, I catch a thin refrain unspooling in the frigid air. The sound grows, and I recognize the clamor of church bells echoing down the incline. I’d all but forgotten Palm Sunday, and as my coffee cools and I turn to face the sun, the churches dotting the hilltop compete in calls to worship.

Pittsburgh is a strange place.


I’d spent the preceding five days at the American Copy Editors Society’s annual conference, a communion of editors, lexicographers, grammar gurus, and word nerds of all stripes.

When I signed up, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was desperate to get out of my office and my own head, and the dreaded nag of stagnation glimmered on the horizon. And, were I completely honest, I’d seen Twitter explode during the previous year’s conference in Las Vegas, and I was determined to be part of the in-crowd this go around.

I arrived by car, which presented its own set of problems: the hotel only had expensive valet parking. I ended up dragging a broken suitcase, a wool coat, a laptop bag, and a pair of boots down three flights of parking garage stairs and across four city blocks. By the time I reached the check-in line, I was frantic with the notion that I’d miss the freelancer happy hour and subsequently Everything Would Be Terrible.

What a crock of shit. I did indeed make it to happy hour (though I missed the appetizers). Everyone was warm and gracious, and I miraculously parted with the first stack of my business cards without quite realizing how I’d done it. I even won a year’s online subscription to The Chicago Manual of Style—my most-used reference. I traded increasingly intimate small talk, wondering at my ease, and finally slipped away for dinner on my own. (Ramen and dim sum, if you’re wondering.) Small steps.


Thursday morning initially left me feeling like the kid picked last for kickball: I wasn’t sure where I needed to be, if group breakfast existed, or whether I’d find folks to pal around with. A plethora of people were already engaged in friendly conversation, and I wondered if I were the only one who didn’t have ready friends. Regardless, I managed to get up, run(!), and make it to the first-timer’s session, a cup of coffee clutched tightly in one hand. I settled in near faces that seemed happy-hour familiar.

“We have a special guest here to talk to you,” Brady Jones announced.

“It’s Beyoncé,” one of my seatmates whispered loudly.

I suddenly had a feeling everything was going to be okay.

The rest of the day unfolded as though in a dream: I hustled from session to session with a newfound friend, furiously typing notes and fighting to unkink my cramped legs. I attentively followed (and posted to) the #ACES2015 Twitter feed. The rapid-fire social media network became accepted background static for the event: everyone tweeted everything. Miss a session? No worries—plenty would livetweet it. Want to organize a food outing? Tweet about it with the appropriate hashtag (i.e., #teampierogi). It was glorious. In a somewhat surreal experience, a few people tracked me down solely based on information from my Twitter feed.

“You’re the one who mentioned the shiny shoes and the blazers,” someone would say.

“I am,” I’d confirm, and we’d shake hands and trade cards. Avatars became introductions.

Later I shared a generous pitcher of margaritas with Gerri Berendzen, two of her Mizzou students, and Dilane Mitchell. (I should add that my notes from the session following lunch don’t make a lot of sense.) I admired Gerri’s students; their futures brimmed with possibility. What if I’d known about ACES as a student? What if I’d pursued journalism rather than creative writing and marine biology? What if I’d gone into print media rather than the corporate world? I could have questioned my path forever.

I found myself in conversations so animated they fluidly moved from conference room to bathroom to coffee to the reception hall. More business cards disappeared. By the time I finally crashed in my hotel room, exhausted and stuffed with cheese and cured meat and mashed potatoes, it was almost midnight.

While I enjoy social events, I find them draining. Interpersonal interaction requires extensive use of all my cognitive resources: I gain creative energy, but my dark eldritch powers trickle away. And yet, I’d been on my feet talking, listening, and learning for seventeen hours. My people, I thought, easing sparkly pumps from tired feet. I briefly struggled with my pajamas before giving up. This is where I’m supposed to be.


Friday and Saturday passed in much the same fashion, though colder, snowier, and pierogier. (Is that a word? It should be.) I bought half a dozen delicious, tiny donuts after braving a turbulent shuttle ride to a Polish deli with Rachel Stuckey, Susanna Fix McCrea, and Melissa Morrow. I discussed plane crashes and the politics of translation over Cajun food with Karen and Michelle. We even got shushed at the banquet when, as we strained to hear and see the presentation preceding Ben Zimmer, things got a little rowdy.

I spent brief periods agonizing over which panels I should attend, especially because many popular panels ran simultaneously. How to choose between Mary Norris, diversity, or clarity in medical communications? But even when a time slot featured sessions that seemed inapplicable or uninteresting to my work, there was always something of value to learn. (The notable exception was “Niggles, Nudges, and Uh-Oh Sensors: The Intuitive Art of Catching Errors” in which I nodded off, though to be fair, I was dead tired and needed to nap.) I sat in thirteen panels—

  • Editing in a Digital Environment: Best Practices for Workflow and Quality Control
  • Switching Seats: Transitioning to a New Career or Medium
  • Using Checklists to Foolproof Your Editing
  • Social Media Fact-checking
  • Working Away from the Office: Benefits and Drawbacks
  • Level Up! How to Get More Out of Your Freelance Business
  • Deep Grammar
  • Niggles, Nudges, and Uh-Oh Sensors: The Intuitive Art of Catching Errors
  • The Language of the LGBT Community
  • Optimizing for Search or Social: Is It Really a Trade-Off?
  • Women in Management
  • Giving Copy a Face Lift, With No Pain
  • Proofreading: Catch Mistakes Before They Cause a Crisis

—and actively followed many more. My brain—stuffed with lessons, best practices, and new names—practically exploded. I never even made it to the lexicography discussions. Between panels, transcribing notes, and the miserable weather, I barely explored beyond the hotel.

The conference culminated in an adventure with my newfound girl gang that involved dessert, cocktails, cat pictures, and an after party at Olive & Twist, a local bar. (And, incidentally, an after-after party at a smoky karaoke townie bar outside of Pittsburgh proper. Margaux, I’m so sorry I met you while I was drunk; you are a lovely person.) We got back to the hotel late, elated and desperate for pizza, knowing that our elevator hugs were probably the last word before we left for our homes the next morning.


My final morning walk is synecdoche—my conference experience in entirety: a curious oasis of calm and belonging in (what should have been) an overwhelming stream of activity. A brightening. A melody of benediction tumbling away.


Handouts from many of the panels are available here, and you can read the ACES2015 blog here. My notes will be forthcoming to interested parties. I couldn't possibly mention all the wonderful people I met, but you should seek them out. Go read the #ACES2015 Twitter feed!