The Tyranny of the Red Pen

When I started at the University I was employed as an editor. My boss was an excellent writer, maybe not as good as he thought he was, but damn good nonetheless.

I discovered early on in my career there that a thick skin and the ability to take criticism of my work was going to be fundamental to survival. I would give him pieces that I had written and he would take them home to read and edit.

The first few pages would have the standard corrections, sentences reworked and so on. So far so good. He was a great preacher of the rule of proximity in a sentence. Also, he scythed through repetition with ease. Phrases like ‘forward planning’ which cropped up regularly in University documents were caught by his beady eye.

After I had annoyed him with my lack of precision and poor presentation of thought, he would be well lit as someone I once knew would say. The edits and scrawls on the pages deteriorated badly thereafter. That spelled trouble for me.

A particular piece of nonsense might attract a flurry of ten red exclamation marks. Then more abuse, ‘What does this mean JOSEPH?’. ‘Rubbish’. ‘This word is a noun not a verb, don’t ever write that again!’

Then the final insult. ‘Absolute, total nonsense. See me!!!!!’

However, he drew the line at some phrases. Abusive words. Tool. Asshole. They wouldn’t have featured in his vocabulary at all.

I would dutifully proceed to his office where I would get a real bollocking for the merits and demerits of what I had written. I found it a fascinating learning experience. He gave me the balls to write the way I should have been writing. Also the balls to correct other people’s work no matter who they were.

I’ll tell you this. You need a thick skin to write anything down. I have little respect for the people who are correctors of others’ work but cannot populate a white sheet of paper with their own thoughts and ideas expressed in words. My boss used to call it the Tyranny of the White Page. This from a man who was a master of the Tyrannny of the Red Pen!

I have total respect for people who are prepared to write and even more for those that are prepared to put their thoughts ‘out there’ on paper or online. I encourage people to do that. To suck it and see. Especially blogging, it’s a big world and there’s plenty of room for the good, bad and indifferent. At least they’re writing something!

Occasionally I come across things written that interest me for whatever reason, work, enjoyment. Who knows? Maybe I know the person or their subject matter appears to me be different or appealing. Or perhaps it is a work assignment.

Oftentimes I might consider making a suggestion, but bitter experience tells that because people view writing as an extension of themselves they get wounded very easily.

I will simply leave them to it, and they will be none the wiser but much happier. I won’t be back.

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