8 Ways to Edit Your Friend’s Stuff and Still Remain Friends


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?

  1. Remember there is always some good in anyone’s writing. Find it and build on it.
  2. Remind your friend that good grammar is a compulsion for you, and it’s not personal.
  3. Turn statements like “I have no idea what the subject of this sentence is!” to questions: “Who or what is doing the action here?”
  4. 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.
  5. 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?”
  6. Don’t touch the good stuff. Don’t change things just for the sake of change.
  7. Keep in mind that the goal for editing your friend’s work is that you want her to be successful.
  8. 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.


Don’t Fear the Feedback


Isn’t it a great feeling, after you’ve done something well, for someone to acknowledge your effort?

On the flip side, don’t you want to know if disaster is looming, so you can take action to minimize or correct it?

As an editor and writer, I’ve had to deal with how to handle criticism. The word “criticism” has an evil connotation these days so we’ll substitute “feedback.”

We all know that writing is extremely difficult work. It takes a great deal of time and effort. It requires constant thinking and analyzing. Most of the time, we pour our emotions into it.

It’s easy to understand why writers may get a little huffy when their “babies” become exposed to someone’s review. It is painful when people start picking them apart.

I’ve had writers get upset if I removed an unneeded comma, suggested a better word, or noted their development could use some work – really upset. Admittedly, in the heat of deadline battles, I may have stomped on the emotional connection between writer and piece.

When seeking and giving feedback, remember that nothing is totally abysmal. (Okay, I’ve had a few thrown-together papers that came close.) There is always something good in what someone has written. Start from that foundation and go forward with the attitude that any feedback is designed to make it better.

A good editor will resist the temptation to change everything. Honestly, there are times when I think I could make corrections to a Shakespearean sonnet. Some things just need to be left alone. However (and this is a big “however”), there must be a good reason for it.

“Because that’s the way I want it,” is not a good enough reason. Explain why you want it that way.  You’ll be surprised at how much good feedback you will get.

Lots of time we avoid asking for feedback. It’s terrifying to hand over our literary “baby” to someone else. We can almost feel our hearts contract.

Think of it as sending your child off to kindergarten. She will be okay, and she’ll learn a whole bunch of stuff in the process.

My teenaged grandson wants to write a book. In fact, he’s already written about 40 pages. One night, we sat down and talked about character and plot development. We talked about how his main character would react to certain circumstances given her background.

“I’m going to have to change a lot of things,” he said. “There’s a whole lot more to this.”

You know what was wonderful about the experience? We were so excited talking about how he could improve his story, we stayed up until 3 a.m.!

Yes, feedback can be a lot of fun. Don’t fear it!

What steps will you take today to face your feedback fears?