Wick Communications

‘Will you look at this?’

In Editing on June 9, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Forgive me. This is only tangentially connected to what we do for a living, but do folks ever ask you for help with their writing?

It’s only natural. If you are reading this, you are, after all, most likely in the communication field. Most of you write or edit for a living. Why wouldn’t Aunt Edna come to you for help with the family Christmas letter or the Great American Novel that she is writing in the basement after work?

When that happens, you may have stepped in it without ever lifting a foot.

If someone close to you has asked you to look at her writing, then you probably already know what I mean. …

Let me give you an example. A long time ago, when my grandfather was still alive, he presented me with a half-dozen spiral notebooks that he had filled over a number of years with a barely legible scrawl and his hopes to be a published author. It was the story of a World War II ace who zoomed through the skies of Italy and the hearts of more than one Italian young lady. Perhaps not coincidentally, my grandfather had been a World War II flying ace in his younger days. He was a family man, a salesmen, an outdoorsman and one of my favorite people ever … but he was never a writer.

When he asked me to “edit” his book, I took him at his word. He, however, didn’t appreciate edits I suggested for his writing as I lovingly typed it into the family computer. What he meant by “edit” was “read and tell me you like it.”

Family members obviously require particularly gentle handling, but I suggest you discuss expectations before editing anyone who asks for your help. Do you want me to make substantive changes to make it more readable? Do you want me to check for grammar and spelling? Do you want me to simply read it and afterward discuss the storyline and so forth?

Most people don’t get edited much. Consequently, they can find the sorts of editing we get every day to be rather callous. If you do offend someone over his writing, try explaining it like this: writing is a muscle that requires exercise. When you exercise a lot, as we do, the training or editing isn’t terribly painful. But if you haven’t exercised that particular muscle in a while, expect some tightness.

Clay

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  1. Ahh this is so true. I think a lot of writers/editors can relate to this.

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