Serendipity is one of the most enjoyable by-products of reporting,writing and reading and writing.
Over the weekend, I picked up a hardcover version of "Defining the Wind: The Beaufort Scale, and how a Nineteenth-Century Admiral Turned Science into Poetry" by Scott Huler. Lined up on a bargain shelf, it sold for just $5.98.
With Ernesto unable to decide whether it's a tropical storm or a hurricane as it bears down on Florida, my choice might have seemed timely. Actually, my purchase reflected an ongoing interest in the natural world, and its place in good writing. Also, I just like trying to learn about elemental forces that have always fascinated man—specifically the wind and clouds.
It's a fascinating account of his exploration of wind and the British naval officer who created a simple way of observing and measuring its strength--a contribution that meteorologists rely on to this day. You can also hear about it in this interview on National Public Radio.
(The impact of wind on a house, according to the Beaufort scale; click image to enlarge.)
But who would have guessed I'd come upon an unexpected writing treasure as I began reading Huler's book.
A single paragraph on page five, it's Huler's homage to his days as a copy editor. The discovery pleased me for two reasons: over the years, copy editors have saved my butt more times than I'd like to admit, and secondly, as you'll see, it reinforces one of this blog's twin identities. Huler writes:
"For many years I was a copy editor. That’s good honest work and underappreciated, but above all it’s a great place to learn how writing works. From character—is this the right punctuation mark? is this word spelled correctly?—to clause, from sentence to paragraph, from passage to complete manuscript, a copy editor tinkers with prose like a jeweler with a watch. It’s great experience, and great training for a writer. Learning to copyedit before becoming a writer is like being a mechanic before learning to drive a race car. The understanding of the secret processes behind the magic can only help, especially when the handling gets rough."
My plan is to someday produce a book about the art and craft of writing, one that will in all likelihood bears the same title as this blog. I guarantee that Scott Huler's observation about the way copyediting puts a writer under the hood will have a place in it.
(Image of Beaufort scale illustrated from United States Search and Rescue Task Force)
Coming soon: The marriage of narrative and climatology.