A client recently asked me if I ever felt annoyed when editing them. I’m sure it’s because yes, I have gotten annoyed and, regrettably, it has shown through like a blood spot seeping through a white muslin bandage. I’m not proud of this. The color of anger, hot-headedness, blood and resentment, the red pen (or, in our case, red highlighted text) is dreadful enough. I surely don’t want to let my tone or language suggest irritation to a person who has already consented to the ticklish practice of being edited. But, partly because of the question, I know I have.
Doctors go to other doctors when they’re seriously sick. And editors go to other editors when they’ve written something serious. If no one’s around, I write something and give it some time to rest before I go back and edit myself as if I were another person. I rarely let the original copy stand as is. I always re-read emails before sending them. I check text messages, too. (Although damn that AutoCorrect.)
Actually, I relish editing. Like pulling weeds or cleaning house, there is satisfaction in cleanliness. There is also the pleasure of hunting and puzzle-solving in editing. Where are the errors? Did I get them all? Could this sentence be made clearer or more eloquent by eliminating unneeded words? Changing their order? It’s really all about the text, not the person.
That the person being edited could or should feel bad for having their mistakes corrected is the furthest thing from my intentions. That they do feel bad, however, is common, and usually cured by being edited over time.
Hopefully, over time, they stop making the same mistakes and get better. That would be a great outcome, and for me as an editor, even more satisfying than cleaning up typos. But it doesn’t always happen that way. Some people don’t care, and some people don’t learn. It may be that they are also annoyed by themselves when they see the same mistakes corrected repeatedly without really understanding the rules or principles behind them.
What I don’t relish, however, is being second-guessed. I’m as happy to be wrong as the next person (i.e., not very happy), and I am willing to admit it quickly and move on graciously. I am certainly not always right. However, when my advice as an editor is aggressively challenged on flimsy grounds, that is frustrating.
I suppose I get crabby then.
I’ll never forget, years ago, when a gifted writer and collaborator disagreed with a word choice I’d made. I was very specific about that word, but he helpfully suggested that, in these modern times, many people would interpret it somewhat differently, if less accurately. I hung on and proselytized for my word until, in a lightning bolt of realization, I saw that if he, a very intelligent reader with his finger on the public pulse, could see how someone might “misinterpret” my precisely chosen word, it didn’t matter if I was right and they would have been wrong. My meaning wouldn’t be communicated as effectively as possible to the greatest number of readers. So I made the change.
Not just in the word, but in my attitude.