Strangely, I’m thinking today about natural disasters. What with the baby earthquake of Tuesday afternoon and the impending hurricane disaster, it’s an odd choice, but such are the inner workings of my mind. In any case, destruction is on the brain. In between putting an extra pitcher of water in the fridge, and checking to make sure the flashlight has batteries and that there are matches for the candles (all while dubiously looking out at the blue skies and bright sun shining this morning), I remembered about the essay I told my friend I would read and edit for him over the weekend.
Destruction of another sort, editing an essay, manuscript or any other piece of writing (especially for a friend) is always a tricky balance, at least for me. Oftentimes, I’ll love an idea or angle, but the writing is just so muddled that while I understand it because it’s been explained to me verbally, the sentences themselves just don’t make sense. Or the eloquence isn’t there—there’s not enough personality or individualism to the words; they could have been written by anyone. It’s taken a few years of practice to train myself not to get carried away just rewriting the whole darn thing. I would start out well, correcting punctuation and grammar, suggesting a subtle word change or elaboration, but once I became comfortable with a piece, the writing would start to look curiously like my own.
Of course, I had to stop myself, because it isn’t my work. If it was, I would probably have someone else look at it and value their opinion, but I’d want the actual narrative to be mine. Where to draw the line, though? When someone asks you to read a draft—whether it’s something academic or personal, how do you rein in your input? Suggesting a reworking of a paragraph, giving the hint of an idea; these are perfectly acceptable creative edits, but in college I had to learn to restrain myself from taking a friend’s muddled essay—with the kernel of a great idea!—and just tearing it apart and inserting paragraphs of my own.
Is this something you are guilty of? How have you learned to overcome it and what sort of techniques do you use to subtly suggest new and better (in your opinion) phrases and structure to a friend?
Luckily, with this new essay to edit, I’ll have plenty to do if this supposed hurricane barricades me inside this weekend and who knows, maybe inspiration will strike in the face of disaster.