red-penSomeone said something utterly shocking to me the other day – she said, “Clearly, you know your sh*t and maybe your client is a bit intimidated.” We were discussing a client that seemed tongue-tied and ill prepared every time we were scheduled to talk over their material.

My shock was two-fold – One, her perception of me as professional and competent, even though I am, and two, I’m more of an introvert, not exactly a shrinking violet, but I certainly wouldn’t put myself on the roster of bold and outspoken women.

I take great care to ensure those I am helping don’t feel that I am judging them. As an editor, I make suggestions and edits – that’s what I do. But I am also ever mindful of the power of the red pen.

My first real job as a college grad fresh out of journalism school was a high ranking political position as a writer. My boss had also found herself in a higher ranking position, purely because of her political connections (actually her relative in politics). She had no experience as a writer or editor, but her perception of an editor was as one wielding a red Flair pen slashing across a clean sheet of carefully prepared copy.

Those were the days of typing out copy with a typewriter – one sheet at a time. I’d write my articles, slip it in her in-box and within a few hours, she would return it to me awash with flourishes and swirls and circles, none of which were proper, professional, editorial markings.

It took me a few weeks before I decided to conduct an experiment. I turned in a new story on Monday afternoon. By Tuesday, she had returned that copy covered in the usual red rash. I waited. On Wednesday, I typed a clean copy verbatim and put it in her in-basket.

I returned to my desk and waited – wondering what I could possibly say if she realized she had read it before. Instead, she nearly tripped getting up from her desk to rush over to me. “This, this! Fabulous you should write like this all the time.”

I feigned modest appreciation, yet inside I was burning. IT WAS THE EXACT SAME THING I had written two days before. She had no clue what she was doing, only acting the way she assumed editors did.

Over the years working as writer and editor, I’m ever mindful of the power the red pen has to inflict discouragement, embarrassment, and insecurity in one’s writing.

Whether you are a seasoned writer or incubating the first ideas of your book, blog, poetry, essays or any writing that you feel you need to share, please know that a professional editor is not your 7th grade English teacher reincarnate or an overzealous boss portraying a Hollywood caricature of Lou Grant. There are those of us who want to help you polish and shine your work – your precious, fragile, and necessary work- so it reflects you in the best possible light, clear and bright. No red pen, no intimidation.

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