By Rebecca Willman Gernon
I know the cardinal rule of serious writers: Don’t ask your family or friends to read and comment on your writing. I never gave much thought to the reverse: Don’t edit writing for your family, especially your spouse. A hard lesson, but one I learned with grace because of a lot of silent frustration.
Hubby has been retired for several years, but recently he heard of a work-related issue that bothered him. He tooted his little flutophone, which was heard locally. Soon he was blaring a tuba, and within a week the editor of a national trade magazine called him. After a telephone interview, hubby said, “She wants me to write an article. Said I could have as many pages as I needed.” He then leapt onto his soap box spouting off ideas; telling me why his former occupation was going to hell in a handbasket; what someone should do to correct the problem, and who was at fault for the mess.
I listened, and when he stopped for a breath I asked, “How many words are you allowed?” “As many as I want,” he replied. I held my tongue with great effort. “Most editors have a word limit. No point writing a book when she wants a short story. I think before you write, you should ask for a word count.” He actually took my advice. “1200 words,” he said a day later.”
“That’s 4-5 pages. I suggest you write a couple of paragraphs on 5-6 important points and allow at least 300 words for the intro and closing.” For several hours he toiled away, cutting his planned “Moby Dick” book in a Reader’s Digest length article. “Here, what do you think?”
I should have run for cover, but having worked in the same industry as he did for fifteen years, and having written and published far more articles than he ever has, and since he is my husband, I agreed to edit it. There were many good points, but it was disjointed, rambled, expressed personal gripes, shifted from third to the first person, and had no definite beginning or conclusion. After hours of work on both our parts, he had a finished 1250 word article ready to submit. I am hoping for the byline “with Rebecca Willman Gernon,” after all, I put in as much time on the project as he did.
“This is perfect,” he said as he read our final copy.” Could not have been said any better. The more I read it, the more I like it.” I waited for him to thank me, but all he said was, “This is good, but my first draft was fine.” I kept my mouth shut, again thanks to James 3:5-8. AARRRGH. No one’s first draft, not even my loving husband’s first draft, is fine. Remember that before you submit, and remember to keep your mouth closed when editing for family.