The Angry Red Pen

Red is the color of blood, anger, resentment . . . and editing.

Red is the color of blood, anger, resentment . . . and editing.

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.

Not the feeling I want to project. But, sometimes, I do.

Not the feeling I want to project. But, sometimes, I do.

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.

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Thou Shalt Not Be a Boring Speaker



Engagement. What a nice word. A couple planning to marry. A child engrossed in a book or a game. Friends in an intense conversation. Fascinated students eager to learn. Members of an audience listening to a riveting talk.

It’s also an elusive goal, writing that book, creating that curriculum, and delivering that speech. How do you ensure engagement? It was a big topic at Cornell University’s Entrepreneurship@Cornell symposium last weekend. Continue reading

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How to Help Boston


This threat is primitive and real. An act of terrorism, when we're not there, has the same effect without the same reality.

This threat is primitive and real. An act of terrorism, when we’re not there, has the same effect without the same reality.

There is a distinct rhythm to The News in this digital age. The News of the Boston explosions at the Marathon finish line itself exploded on Twitter and elsewhere. If you are a citizen on Twitter, you retweet, ostensibly to inform your followers. But also to say I’m with it, I saw this, and I saw this early, and I am in the conversation. What’s more, I am horrified and sympathetic and confused and afraid. You can add whatever reaction you like to that list. You go to #Discover and see Trending Topics related to #Boston. You filter your feed to see only tweets about the tragedy. Soon, you’re linking to YouTube and news sources, including the old-fashioned TV, which re-enters the picture when streaming pictures become valuable. There are parallel news cultures on Facebook and elsewhere. Continue reading

Posted in Managing, Popular Culture, Spirit, Technology, Tips | 1 Comment

I Feel Your Pain. But Do You?

Feeling pain? Take a pill. Or maybe not this time.

Feeling pain? Take a pill. Or maybe not this time.

Got a headache? Take a pill. Upset? Call a friend. Hurt or injured? Go to the emergency room. Sick? Call the doctor! Fearful? Talk yourself out of it, or run and hide. Sad? Bury it with work. Offended? Fight back! When the the pain comes up, so do our defenses. Our goal is to feel better as soon as possible. And what’s wrong with that? Right?

Then why do spiritual advisers and healing teachers admonish us instead to eschew these short-term avoidance tactics and instead to “feel it if you want to fix it” and to “go into the pain” and to fully experience your “charges” when they come up? Doesn’t that seem counterintuitive and hard on us?

And what, exactly, does it mean to fully experience your own pain? Weren’t you already feeling the pain, and isn’t that why you already took the pill? Continue reading

Posted in Growth, Reorganization Living, Spirit, Strategies for Living | 2 Comments

Shorten the Long and Winding Road

winding_road_11Here is a trick I use on walks and runs and cycling. Oh, and life.

First, I have an idea about where I’m going. My route. A destination. A duration for the outing. I get on the road and I look toward the horizon, my imagined end point, or the apex of my circuit. I fix an eye on the most distant thing I can see, maybe a tree top. That’s my map. That’s my direction. That’s my True North. Continue reading

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Give Your Brain a Break

Dinner with his family is one of many daily routines for the President.

Dinner with his family is one of many daily routines for the President.

Our brains get tired. By the end of the day, “brain fog” and “fuzzy thinking” accompany irritability and lack of productivity. But it’s easier than you think (with your tired brain) to sustain mental energy with smart snacks, intelligent lists, and indispensable apps.

Routines are your friend. Recent brain science books, including Willpower, describe how making lots of decisions is to your brain as lifting lots of weights is to your muscles. President Obama recognizes this phenomenon and reduces the number of decisions he has to make with daily routines around eating, working out, dressing, and spending his evenings.  This leaves him fresher for bigger decisions involving, um, leading the country. Continue reading

Posted in Food, Health, Recipes, Reorganization Living, Strategies for Living | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Find My iPad! Au secours!

Deeply, madly.

Deeply, madly.


Losing my iPad is like losing my head. I’m that attached to it. But, it happened.

How could I be so out of my head that I lost touch with my iPad for long enough for it to go missing? Here’s how: I was at a weekend-long film festival. I was sleep deprived. My head was awhirl with images and ideas and sounds and discussions of French films. I was leaving early in the morning and returning, exhausted, late at night. Continue reading

Posted in Lifestyle, Technology, Tips, User Experience | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments