The emotional editor

Post by Chris Bryce

You never know what’s coming next, do you? That’s one of the things I enjoy most about being a working word geek. And, work can, of course, be like political scandals; nothing for a couple of weeks then three turn up, jostling for attention.

So, what stood out in 2017?

Well, one of Scotland’s specialist construction companies needed a new website and invited me to provide the wording (web copy) for it. The guys were great to work for and were delighted with the friendly yet professional tone of their new site. Their web designers told me they couldn’t remember the last time a new website build had gone so smoothly. Normally it’s a lack of web copy that slows the whole thing up. Everyone felt relieved, including me.

OK, job done, what was next?

Opening my inbox, I found a request from a PhD student who was looking for help with their thesis. It was evident, from a sample of text, that English was not their first language. Their methodology, research and conclusions were all strong, but their lack of experience of writing in English was reducing the impact of their hard work.

After agreeing on a fee, I sorted out a range of issues: grammar, punctuation, format and some egregious typos. The research explored the effects of the Civil War in Uganda on the Acholi people, following decades spent in refugee camps. I learned a great deal about Uganda and its Civil War and was particularly moved by the Acholi people’s plight, which continued even after their return to their homelands. Knowing that his work was in safe hands and being attended to by a thoughtful brain, the PhD student stopped worrying. I felt happy to have helped.

Then something completely different appeared; I received a poem.

Not just any old four-line poem, but a poem for a gravestone, to mark the passing of a dearly-loved father and husband, a man who had admired the works of Robert Burns and hailed from Dumfriesshire. I will probably not connect so strongly with a piece of work for a long time.

The task was to convert the poem, composed by the deceased’s daughter, into the language of Burns. When you know your work will be carved in stone, it has to be right. Throughout my time working on this, it was as though the gentleman was by my shoulder and from time to time I’d find myself reassuring him that I’d do a good job for both him and his daughter.

After a time, I reached what I thought was the final draft, but something niggled away at me. Following some contemplation, I found the addition of ‘aye’ in the last line made it considerably more meaningful.

As I sent my final version on, I felt a lump rise in my throat.

Faither, husband, man o’th shaw;

Noo ye’v returned whaur frae ye cam,

Swith wild wi maukin, burn and sea;

Oh, what wildness aye bides in ye.

Whoever would imagine that editing and proofreading tasks could generate so many different feelings?

Right, 2018, what’s next?!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

An experienced copywriter, copy-editor, proofreader and all-round friendly word geek, Chris Bryce of Spotlight Editorial also co-ordinates the local Glasgow SfEP group. You can follow Chris on Twitter @Spotlight_Ed

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