21 October 2011

Another year, another conference

At the end of last month, I was in Oxford overseeing the annual conference of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders – my first as the Society’s Conference Director. Now that the dust has settled a bit, I can begin to look at the conference with a degree of objectivity. Inevitably there are things I could improve for next year’s conference, but on the whole the Oxford event seems to have been well received by those who attended it. For example, one person wrote
This was an excellent conference - extremely efficiently run, interesting sessions, great networking. And the accommodation was good and the catering excellent - five star meals elegantly served. Not what I would have expected, given my previous experience of staying in university residences!
And another emailed to say
A woman in the 'Editing STM' course . . . came up to me after lunch and said that she remembered me from the conference, where she'd been a first timer. She said that it was the first time she'd been to such an event where she'd felt at home and surrounded by friendly people within a couple of hours of arriving - she really raved about it. She also said that the future of journal publishing seminar had transformed the way she viewed her work.
But, of course, the fact that the dust is settling means that it is time to begin preparing for next year’s conference in York. If anyone reading this blog has any suggestions about possible speakers, workshop topics, entertainment, sponsors, etc. please feel free to leave a comment. All suggestions gratefully received!

12 October 2011

Kurt Vonnegut on writing

Kurt Vonnegut certainly knew how to write, so any advice from him is certainly worth taking seriously. Here are some tips from him, which were originally published in IEEE Transactions on Professional Communications Vol. PC-24, no. 2 (1980), pp. 66–67 (you can find a pdf of the original here):

  1. Find a subject you care about
  2. Do not ramble, though
  3. Keep it simple
  4. Have guts to cut
  5. Sound like yourself
  6. Say what you mean
  7. Pity the readers
The one thing I disagree with is the closing section of his article in which he advises people to go to Strunk and White’s Elements of Style for more detailed advice. To understand why this is really bad advice, one need look no further than Geoff Pullum’s excellent article ‘The Land of the Free and The Elements of Style. His conclusion is worth quoting:
The Elements of Style does real and permanent harm. It encourages the waste of precious resources – time spent by teachers, students, and copy editors; money spent by English departments and publishers. Genuine faults in writing go neglected because time is spent on nonsense like which-hunting. And worse than that, sensible adults are wrongly persuaded that their grasp of their native tongue is imperfect and their writing is incorrect. No good purpose is served by damaging people’s self-confidence in this way.