12 August 2011


Writing Diary, Entry #27

Now I add a fourth magazine to my collection of publications that I've written for: MOD. Buy the August 2011 issue of this glossy women's monthly to see my review of Food Presentation by Michelle Valigursky. (Yes, there are other features--all of them much bigger than my own--but mine are the ones you love, right?)

I got my own copy last week, eagerly flipped through it to find my contribution, started reading it . . . and then felt my usual excitement stop a bit short. There was something about the third sentence that just didn't fit.

Some background now, so you see what I mean. Here is the opening paragraph of the copy I e-mailed to MOD:

Should food look as good as it tastes or taste as good as it looks? A chef might say the former, while a stylist insists on the latter. Michelle Valigursky, who is at once a chef, a stylist, a photographer, a designer and a writer, has a philosophy that gives new meaning to the phrase "dinner and a show."

But what I read in the magazine went more like this:

Should food look as good as it tastes or taste as good as it looks? A chef might say the former, while a stylist may insist on the latter.

Michelle Valigursky, a former chef, a stylist, a photographer, a designer and a writer, has a philosophy that gives new meaning to the phrase "dinner and a show."

A former chef??? Really? Did the editor's fact checking pick up something I had completely missed?

That was my first thought, as I scanned my article in a restaurant with some friends. Only later when I got home and could check the finished piece against what I had written did a second possibility occur to me. Do you suppose . . . by any chance . . . although it's not pleasant to say so . . . the editor thought that "at once" means "used to be" rather than "simultaneously"???

What a sinking feeling that brings on, aye? But it doesn't end there. Here's something that jumped out at me a few paragraphs later . . .

Although the tome does not go into either technical or artistic details, its "Tips and Inspiration" is enough to get an enthusiastic entertainer started.

The tome??? Since when is a stand-alone book a tome? And more importantly, since when do I use such an old-fashioned word as "tome" to describe a paperback published in 2010? I think that words should match the things they are used for--or if they don't, that the clash should mean something, preferably irony. Now, I know my grammar is far from flawless . . . but I think I can at least get some credit for style.

Here's what I think happened. My original piece had the book's title, Food Presentation, in between the "Although" and the "does." Whoever was editing it didn't want the title there and wanted to replace it with "book." But the previous sentence already has the word "book" in it, and he probably didn't want to overuse it; so he hit Shift+F7 on MS Word, got a list of words that included "tome," and made it the lucky pick.

(Go ahead. Open MS Word, type "book," press F7 while holding down the Shift key, and see what synonyms come up for you.)

Oh, yeah: they changed the linking verb after the "Tips and Inspiration" bit. I'm not even going to try explaining that one.

And now I realise that all of this sounds a lot like a self-entitled princess complaining about having been paid to write for another magazine. Perhaps I should keep my "Writing Diary" entries in one of those old-fashioned paper-based journals? =P I'm actually very happy to be a contributor to a magazine that has been around since the 80s, and one which I happened to read many back issues of while waiting for my mother's hair to get done at the beauty parlour. This is just one "writing adventure" I couldn't pass up the chance to blog.

It was also supposed to be the short introduction to a post about what I've learned from these three years of writing in magazines . . . but then it got too big for that and became a post of its own. When I get that other Writing Diary entry up, this one will be put in better perspective.

In the meantime, you should hear my friends drop "Tome" bombs at me whenever they feel like a quick laugh.

Image Source: Food Presentation: Tips and Inspiration by Michelle Valigursky


Jenny said...

No, you don't sound crazy. I'd be a little mad too. It's nice to be published but if they're going to change what you wrote it's a little frustrating. Congrats all the same.

Belle said...

I see where you're coming from, but it's inevitable when you're writing for mags. If these are the only changes it's pretty good. Usually it's more about making it fit with the style of the mag than anything wrong with the writer's work.

Enbrethiliel said...


Jenny -- Thank you. =) I have a friend who was once a newspaper editor and he said that he almost never changed anything.

Something else I suspect (given the local culture) is that the editor who worked on my copy believes that it is part of her job to fix at least one thing in every article that makes it way to her desk. Even if she had found no fault in it, she would have felt professionally obligated change something.

Belle -- Good point! That "fitting with the style of the [publication]" edit should have occurred to me earlier, since happened to me before--with an article I submitted to a newspaper. (There's a reason I've never sent them anything again! =P) Anyway, yes, I understand perfectly why they did it. And now I know why all the articles in that part of the paper always read so uniformly. (LOL!) Personally, I find it really boring and wonder why they bother encouraging anyone and everyone to write in if they're just going to make the articles sound as if they were written by a single someone pretending to be different people . . . but it's not my newspaper, is it? ;-)

love the girls said...

A third possibility.

While a man can be simultaneously a doctor and a father, he can't be simultaneously a doctor and a carpenter insofar as simultaneous refers to act and not potency to act.

Same with being a chef and a photographer. Perhaps the editor was looking at simultaneous as being in act versus being in potency and so wanted to explain that while he was cooking he was not simultaneously holding cameras telling his food to "say cheese".

A rather difficult proposition for an editor to correct seamlessly. And so hit upon 'former' as a nice compromise of attempting to keep the meaning while doing away with the confusion of cheffing and photographing and all the rest taking place simultaneously.


"Should food look as good as it tastes or taste as good as it looks? A chef might say the former, while a stylist may insist on the latter."

A question much better posed when speaking of women. Since with food, as long as it tastes good, the looks will be forgiven no matter how deplorable.

Belfry Bat said...

ltg, (hmmm... there's something... missing? perhaps I should be thankful.)

I think you've missed the point that far from being a compromise, the edits inflicted change the meaning of the sentences they are in.

I don't see how your proposed question is better-posed; at the least, I don't see why you should find it more interesting. So long as a woman is good (virtuous and so-forth), her looks so far as they are proper to herself and not her wardrobe, are a superficial matter.

On the other hand, food is a delight for all the senses: it makes sense to attend to them all, too!

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- Now you're just having fun. =P

That's an interesting point about deplorable looking women being forgiven as long as they "taste good." I've been running into its polar opposite lately: the idea that unpalatable women will be forgiven as long as they look good.

Bat -- It's bait! It's always bait! Don't fall for it! =P

love the girls said...

Belfry Bat writes : "I think you've missed the point that far from being a compromise, the edits inflicted change the meaning of the sentences they are in."

Of course she changed it. But perhaps the change was not due to her being illiterate. As was surmised. And 'nice' was in reference to how the editor perhaps saw it when presented with a rather perplexing problem.

Or she could have simply left the sentence alone assuming her readers could make the proper distinction, just as if someone said the man is at once a doctor and a carpenter, in spite of one's imagination immediately wandering off to see a doctor with saw and hammer repairing torn flesh and broken bones.


Belfry Bat writes : "her looks so far as they are proper to herself and not her wardrobe, are a superficial matter."

A blind man can virtually fully appreciate the food served to him since its nature is taste and nutrition. The delight of the eyes is marginal as best.

But not so with women, clothing is not superficial, anymore the virtue is. Nor the appeal of a women to her husband superficial. Which is why a man should never marry a woman he doesn't find very physically appealing.

love the girls said...

adding on. And also why women should dress attractively, and not like prairie muffins in denim jumpers and tennis shoes. or worse.

love the girls said...

lastly. the editor should have clarified by using "as well as"

The man is a chef as well as a photographer etc. 'As well as' explains the relation while removing simultaneity of time.

Enbrethiliel said...


Remind me, LTG, never to send any articles to any magazine that will have you as an editor.

love the girls said...

Or perhaps something more exclamatory.

Not only a chef, but likewise a an award winning photographer and blah blah blah isn't he simply amazingly diverse and all these he talents are brought together to form the most amazing and of fudge puddings. or some such.

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat -- Just in case you're still here . . . I think what LTG is trying to say in his unique roundabout way is that my own construction is already so clumsy (i.e., no one can cook and take pictures of food at the exact same time or "at once") that it's no better and no worse than the final edit. =P

love the girls said...

Actually, you used the term as it's now used in common parlance, but not so much denotatively.

For instance, "she's at once a mother and doctor juggling her schedule to do both wonderfully"

Leaving aside that mother's can't do both well and by even attempting to do so sacrifice their children to their career, what "at once" is intended to signify is the juggling or the doing of both but not exactly at the same time. The same with your construction.

It was perfectly understood as is. And only 'clumsy' to those who insist that language is not convention, but according to what the dictionary, i.e. a fixed standard, says it is.

Syrin said...

I know from my own experiences that there is a kind of ownership we feel for the way we craft our words, so it makes perfect sense for you to feel a bit upset about it, especially when the person wrongly interpreted what you were trying to say.

I'm currently editing a short story for a friend of mine whose primary language is Russian, and as such I'm finding a lot of grammatical errors and mistaken English phrases in the prose. I'm still making a point to use Track Changes, or in some cases suggest multiple ways he could phrase it properly, because it is his writing and I want it to be his decision on how it is worded.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- I love the way you take the time to write several hundred words to explain to me in painstaking detail what I already knew before you got here.

Let me return the favour in fewer words . . . Language (like fashion) may be a convention, but there is only so far people can go beyond the accepted elements of style without lapsing into incoherence (or inelegance)--or even indefensible incorrectness. It is also possible for one to be perfectly literate and conversational and still commit the most hilarious faux pas. That is why we have blogs like The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks and TV shows like The Fashion Police. And you know, they're fun.

Syrin -- I actually do similar work for a Chinese-Filipino client. He's not attached to his words at all, though, and doesn't mind if the finished document doesn't sound a thing like him as long as it is clear. One of the last jobs he sent me, however, had extensive quotes from people who had filled in one of his surveys. It felt a little wrong to be "cleaning up" their responses, too, but that was also what he wanted. So I tidied those passages up the best I could without getting to the point where I felt I was invalidating research! =P

love the girls said...

Enbrethiliel writes : "I love the way you take the time to write several hundred words to explain to me in painstaking detail what I already knew before you got here."

"Painstaking detail" signifying what? some semblance of coherency of thought beyond the moment? If only that were true. While the editor's qualifying 'former' is rather strange, the only consideration I had was that I thought your suggestion of the editor not knowing that "at once" meant immediacy in time was a bit uncharitable when better options to explain are available.

Afterwards thinking what would have been better corrections to make. And lastly clarifying that I didn't think your writing was 'clumsy'.

The addition on denotation versus connotation was a throw-in just because.

As for baiting. Perhaps I simply use my posts to give people an opportunity to here a rather uncommon view. And if responds, well, more opportunity.

love the girls said...

Thinking about changes made to writing.

While I can't speak of writing since my method is typically to wing it out, I can speak of architecture where I spend absurd amounts of time thinking through and correcting and perfecting only to watch them invariably changed in ways that are simply annoying to say the least.

What I do though, is never mistake my architecture for my children, and secondly I never go back to look at my projects, unless paid to do construction management, except to see if my mental projections were built-form correct so as to correct and improve myself.

In other words, don't read the edited published versions except as a means of seeing what corrections were actually well made in order to correct yourself.

Enbrethiliel said...


I KNEW IT! You were here on "charity" work!

Even while drafting this post, I was well aware that it didn't sound very nice. I even considered the possibility of the editor googling up my blog and being so offended that she never asks me to write anything ever again. But I'll still bet any career I will ever have with MOD that she really did think that the "at once" in my copy meant "former." One factor you forgot was that I've been speaking "Philippine English" all my life.

Now, LTG, you know I'm one of the few people in the blogosphere who actually likes it when you pop up from time to time, but if I had to choose between long-winded comments with barely hidden agenda and a concise, "Wow. This post was bitchy" . . . I'd vastly prefer the latter.

(Wow. This comment was bitchy.)

Enbrethiliel said...


If I wrote like you, I'd never go back to look at what I wrote either. ;-)

(Hey, you walked into that!)

christopher said...

This may be only the second time I've seen someone use the word "denotatively." I've been hanging out with the wrong crowd...

Enbrethiliel said...


What happened the first time???

And I'm afraid I can't promise you that this is the "right" crowd. ;-)