Wednesday, July 13, 2011
When I was in high school I carried my pens and pencils loose in the small front zipper compartment of my jansport backpack. The pencils were for math class, but at sixteen they still carried an embarrassing aura of childhood with them, and so I made it a point to pay them as little mind as possible. As a result what I had were half a dozen pencil stubs--each maybe two inches long, eraser worn down to nothing, heavily chewed on (because, yeah, no, gnawing on your pencil isn't infantile at all). My best friend Fern always teased me about them, referring to them as my "gutter pencils" (the implication being, I guess, that they looked like I found them in the gutter).
Now, here's the thing about being an editor: you really don't sit around marking things with a red pencil, much, the way people think you do. Much of your job is actually project management (which means talking on the phone and sending emails), another big chunk acquisitions (more email, reading things, online research, presentations, writing stuff, more email), and when you do actually sit down to edit a manuscript you do it using the "track changes" feature in Microsoft Word. The exception to all of this is galleys--the book all laid out for the first time by the designer, printed on big 11x17 paper--which you do indeed go through and mark with a pencil. But you can't use red because the proofreader uses red, and you can't use blue because the managing editor uses blue, so you use green. All of which is to say, it's taken me a couple of years, but I am now the proud owner of a ratty green gutter pencil. It feels reassuringly home-like in my fist.