Here an editor, there an editor

Before launching this blog, I sent the link to a client, John Homs, and asked him what he thought. His office called to say John was out, but he wanted to chat online. I got on iChat and saw John’s robot-head icon with a green “available” dot.

I typed, “Where are you? And how do you like my blog?”

His typing bubble appeared. Pop! “Bogota, Colombia”

Wow, being a hemisphere away didn’t deter John from helping me. Was he a great client or was he a great client?

Pop! “Writing hit me wrong. I found it tiring and self-conscious.”

Or semi-great in John’s case, to be perfectly frank.

I typed, “The entire blog?” barely restraining my left pinky from a string of girly exclamation marks.

Pop! “First post. You’re much funnier, much more sophisticated than that.”

Semi-great, yes, but John does have his moments of sheer greatness.

I dragged the draft of an alternative post into the chat window. John liked it; I decided to go with it. But would another pair of eyes lend confirmation? I asked my wife Maria to read the draft.

Getting too close to the writing is an occupational hazard for any writer. To safeguard against it, I grab the nearest warm body and say, "Read this, and tell me what you think without the least regard for my delicate, writer's psyche."

A quick aside on a long-held theory of mine: When someone asks for advice, then disagrees with it, what the advisee actually wanted was confirmation of an opinion already reached. I return to my story.

Maria said, “I like it, but it’s a little slow in that second paragraph.”

I said, “I worked on that paragraph a lot, and I think it reads pretty quickly,” with a slight inflection of some kind.

“You asked me for my opinion—and I told it to you.”

She had. She had. But I was struck by the value of something else: We’d just proven my advice giving-and-receiving theory—and emphatically, at that.

Could Maria’s take be corroborated? Could mine? I asked the recent college grad to read it. When Anna looked up, I told her, in a neutral tone so as not to prejudice her response, what her mother had said. (Also, Maria may have been sitting there at the moment.)

“I liked that paragraph,” Anna said.

Vindication, baby!

Then she added, “But it does go on about half as long as it should.”

Correction, partial vindication for me (maybe), and for Maria, vindication in the 100-percent range. But after tweaking that paragraph, the debut post would be good to go.

Anna said, “I have some other comments, if you’d care to hear them.”

Huh, she wasn’t finished. “Sure,” I said, in the (perhaps begrudging) spirit of collaboration.

Anna suggested tightening cuts, with such illuminating comments as, “This is too cute!” and “What’s that supposed to mean because I don’t get it?” and “The armpit joke isn’t working.”

What was the joke about? Not much, which is why it wasn’t working. I mean, obviously.

I had two takeaways from this post-writing experience—continue to ask others to read my writing, and when they give advice bite my tongue—and one realization: I had no idea I lived in a household of keen editorial insight.

14 Comments

  1. Can I start sending my drafts over to your family? Mine is getting tired of me asking for them to spend their leisure time on my work.

    • Ellen, consider my family of editors your family of editors. As for fees, I can’t speak for Anna but Maria would most likely accept a well-made G&T.

  2. I never ask my family to read what I just wrote…it’s like asking them to walk through a mine field planted with every over emphatic emotion I’ve ever blown at them. Well, never say never, I did write an entire book about my family, and told many secrets, and they read that…at least they said they did. Good luck, George, great blog…LOVE the pics!

  3. George, as a receiver of questions along the lines of, “What do you think of what I wrote,” I try to couch my criticisms in positive terms. Often I will start with what worked well before getting into what didn’t. It’s also important to be as specific as possible.

    • It is indeed important to be positive in rendering criticism. I’m such a strong believer in that I have to say I just added you, Josh Cane, to my “Possible Future Beta Readers” list. Congratulations!

  4. Good blog post, George.

    Hey, you did ask them. And it was great they gave their honest opinion, without being overly brutal about it. Even asked if you Wanted more of their opinions. Sounds like you’ve got some great editors there, count yourself Really lucky!

    And I couldn’t say Great blog post cause of the exclamation point comment. Girly? !!!!!! ***grin****

    • Maria, Sara, and Anna always share their honest opinions with me, and on many occasions I don’t have to ask.

    • It doesn’t come with a certificate or anything. Although now that I think of it …

  5. As a college composition teacher, I spend the majority of my day telling other people what’s right and wrong with their writing (in fact, I’m avoiding grading papers right now by reading and responding to your blog!). To my amazement, the students pay me to read their writing–a more complex relationship than we might think.

    I agree that we who comment on others’ writing have an obligation to let people know what they’ve done well as well as what they have not. And sometimes what we respond to is a matter of taste rather than anything more sunstantive. Sometimes students appreciate it, sometimes not.

    Sometimes it’s hard to find the good stuff under so much bad (most of my students write passable work, which is good, but we disagree about the value of that work in terms of its grade. But there’s almost always something). And if I do find myself failing too many papers, I get out some of my own papers from VMI and wonder that I ever got a degree, much less one with honors in English (you wonder that, too, I know, George).

    I will admit, however, that one time I got a paper so bad that I failed it, and the student asked me why he’d gotten an F–I told him it was because we weren’t allowed to give Gs.
    So perhaps you can comfort yourself that you’re not being graded–or having to give those grades. You can send me your stuff any time–I’m happy to offer any advice I can. For you, of course, no grades.

  6. First, anytime you feel drawn to read a post here and respond, Mike, know that you should and it’s the right thing to do. Besides, we go back further than you and your students do, so if anyone gets neglected, it should be them. There, I hope I’ve freed you from another moment of worry. As for sending you my stuff, I’ll have a manuscript to share in a few months, and if you’re up for that, then sure, it would be my pleasure to impose of you at that time.

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