Do Not Fear The Red Pen!
If there is one thing I’m notorious for at LBA, it’s for returning content drafts to my team members with a lot of red – including lines drawn through words, paragraphs moved around, suggested sentence rewrites, grammar and spelling edits, and a fair share of general comments.
Whether it’s a thousand-word blog, a sell sheet, or an email, my coworkers know from experience that there’s a .001% chance that it will come back to them unscathed by my edits. Even when it comes from an outside source, if I find errors, I often forward them to my teammates with those issues highlighted.
While I know that my editorial feedback is appreciated, I’m not naïve. I am absolutely 100% certain that when a writer first opens up my edited version of the content that they worked so hard to put together that the initial reaction is something like: “&%@!”.
I can certainly relate to this defensiveness. When get edits back on my content, I’ve noticed my jaw clench up a bit as I read through their comments. Because I get this writer frustration myself, I have sometimes doubted whether or not I should be so exacting with how things are worded or organized. After all, it’s just a short blog, right?
But, today, my Red Pen has been vindicated! And by none other than one of my greatest heroes – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
In the book, Notorious RBG, her clerks call her editing style “brutal”. They often get their drafts back with everything crossed out or rewritten, except perhaps the word “the” if only to spare their feelings. She is known to copyedit minor punctuation in a draft of a speech even when it is only going to be read, not published (be still, my beating heart). And she once sent a letter in reply to an applicant for clerkship who’d made a typo in her application that read: “Note the typo.” Needless to say, this candidate was never interviewed. I’m seriously beginning to think I am related to this woman!
Beyond anything else, though, I really connect with the reason that Justice Ginsburg takes such pains to, as she says, “Get it right and keep it tight.” She does not care for legalize or decorative writing. Instead, she wants her writing to be clear and understandable to the public for whom she serves. Her goal in writing “innumerable drafts” is to have a final product that reads so smoothly that there is not one sentence that you’d have to go back and read again.
This is precisely the philosophy we have here at LBA. Our mission is to provide our clients with professionally written content that their customers will enjoy reading and that clarifies something a person may have previously understood. A document riddled with spelling or grammar errors, complicated sentence structure, and too many flowery or industry-specific words that have no meaning to the reader, is certainly not going to fit this bill.
From now on, I will have no qualms (and neither should you) about sending back a draft to someone that is riddled with red, secure in the knowledge that doing so will lead to a final product that meets LBA’s and, hopefully, RBG’s high standards.
Just call me Notorious KID.
Author's Note: This article was originally written in my role as Chief Content Officer for Lisa Baker Associates.