The Copyeditor’s Lament

JP Seabright

            I dream in the margins. My head full of black marks on a page. Several small underlinings; here and there square, curved and pointed brackets; a specific squiggle; a line of dots. I stet in my sleep, indicating that the marked alteration should be ignored. Stet, from the Latin stare, let it stand.

            Stare in Italian means to stay, but you did not stay. The verb is also used to ask what state you’re in, as in: how are you? Come state? Or come stai? if it’s someone you’re more familiar with. Are you someone I’m more familiar with? Was. Once. Then I tried to change you, make alterations, suggestions, and went too far. How are you? Stet. Let it stand. The alteration should be ignored.

            I see errors everywhere. Misspellings, incorrect grammar, inappropriate capitalisation. As a copy editor, it is my job to seek out error, to put right, to suggest better phrasing, to understand what was truly meant and ensure that meaning is made clear. Clear and correct.

            This perception – I think of it as my third eye, I see things others can’t – is both a blessing and a curse. The former because I am good at my job, highly sought after, quick and precise. The latter because I cannot turn it off. My day is full of marginalia. I make mental notes at the side of conversations, with anyone I might speak to. So many people, without realising, drop their aitches, gobble their t’s, turn statements into questions, and forget the full stop as their speech trails off into nothing…

            At night, the page is in front of me. The text and my markings: additions and subtle crossings out. It must all be subtle, delicately done. When my edited copy goes back to the publisher, someone will need to read those hieroglyphs decorating the original text, and make my alterations into printed matter.

            At night, all the conversations we had in those last days are there before me. I make corrections, scoring harder and heavier against the mistakes that I made. I am not used to error, and it’s only now after the event that I can see it. It is glaringly obvious and cannot be unseen. I wish I could erase those errors, write our lives out new again, but that is not the role of the copyeditor. The original must remain visible, ever present, until the final proof.

            I should not have tried to change you. I should not have forced my corrections upon the marginalia of your body. Now all I can do is dream in those margins.

            Stet. Let it stand. The alteration should be ignored.

JP Seabright is a queer writer living in London. Their work can be found online and in print in various places. Their debut prose chapbook is due out with Lupercalia Press in early 2022. They are Assistant Editor for Full House Lit Mag. Their own work can be found at and on Twitter @errormessage.