There’s a war raging inside me.
On one hand, there’s the deep need to promote good writing and proper grammar.
On the other hand, there’s a need to be a nice person whom people want to be around.
Like many professionals, my friends ask me if I can edit things for them. (Good friends sometimes even pay me!) However, it can get a bit sticky.
Think about it; as a copy editor and writing instructor, I’m compulsively correcting grammar. Mona, my dog, is bewildered how the funny box with the flat people can be so naughty that Mommy constantly yells at it. (The growing tendency to make nouns into verbs on commercials may drive me to drink.)
I grew up watching Perry White in the old Superman television series. He was always yelling at people. Folks just smiled at him and did what they wanted to anyway. But Perry demanded a level of excellence. (And, of course, he was a fictional character.)
A coworker once told me I could be intimidating. Me? A grandmother? Intimidating?
How can we satisfy our compulsion for good communication yet keep our friends?
- Remember there is always some good in anyone’s writing. Find it and build on it.
- Remind your friend that good grammar is a compulsion for you, and it’s not personal.
- Turn statements like “I have no idea what the subject of this sentence is!” to questions: “Who or what is doing the action here?”
- Teach people how to use the replace (or, as I like to call it, “search and destroy”) function in Word. This is indispensable when taking out extra spaces and exclamation points.
- Take a deep breath, count to 10, and think of a cool mountain glen when you feel your brain starting to boil. This may happen after the three hundredth time your friend asks, “Why can’t I put a comma there?”
- Don’t touch the good stuff. Don’t change things just for the sake of change.
- Keep in mind that the goal for editing your friend’s work is that you want her to be successful.
- Put it into perspective. Sometimes good is attainable, excellent isn’t. At those times, chant, “A misplaced modifier will not destroy the world.”
Yes, our grammar gift should always be used for good. We just need, in our zeal, to remember there are people behind those words.
5 thoughts on “8 Ways to Edit Your Friend’s Stuff and Still Remain Friends”
Extremely helpful. My JOB is to mark, correct, and edit the papers of juniors and seniors in college. I am sick of having to search for something (anything!) good to say, “My you have interesting handwriting; I’ll anyone who has not taught sixth grade like I have can’t decipher it. Prevents hacking and plagiarism, doesn’t it?” They don’t even get the sarcasm!
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Oh, I can so sympathize! “What do you mean I can’t just copy stuff off the internet? How did you know I didn’t write it?” Um, there’s this little thing call “syntax” that’s kind of like a fingerprint. 😖
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Obviously, you’ve “been there, done that.”
Whenever giving feedback I always like to ask a few questions of the author before I read their piece. I like to know if there’s a specific type of feedback they are looking for, i.e. grammatical vs overall impressions. I also like to ask about their writing in general, what writing means to them and what writing goals they have. Sometimes a person is just writing for fun, or as a gift to relatives or friends, other times they desperately want to break through and become a financially successful writer.
There have definitely been times where I need reassurances that what I’ve written is not pure and utter tripe, and other times where I tell someone “Tear it apart. Please, find every weak point and tell me exactly what I did wrong.”
Over time I’ve actually developed a system of choosing who to show it to based on which type of feedback I’m looking for, though gradually I am also finding a few who are a little of both.