My editor and proofreader, Heidi, is retiring. She has been correcting me for 22 years. Only my wife has beaten her record. When Heidi told me she was quitting, I panicked. Many of the mistakes she found over the years were from my haste to get a new idea fleshed out, knowing that in her capable hands everything would be checked. I never worried about stuff like punctuation because Heidi would fix the errors. Sometimes she would just underline phrases and say something very subtle like: NOT FUNNY!
Who would replace her? Within hours, Mary Ellen volunteered for the job. My wife is an excellent proofer, but I worried it could affect our relationship. Heidi and I often disagreed and got into wording arguments. Mary Ellen said if she took on this task, she’d be the boss and there would be no quibbling. I was to do what I was told. This was also in our wedding vows.
To ensure she could be objective with my writing, I created a test — a paragraph about an upcoming trip we have planned to compare Heidi’s nitpicking against Mary Ellen’s. Following is the draft I filled with intentional (and probably some unintentional) errors.
Mary Ellen and me are planning a trip to D.C. for a short weekend. While in our Nations Capitol we will stay at the Downtown Holliday Inn. I hope we have time to do other things like visit the Smithsonian Institute and the International Spy Mueum! I look forward to seeing alumnus from George Washington University and dinners at some of the old joints we used to go to.
Here’s Heidi’s corrected version:
Mary Ellen and I are planning a trip to Washington, DC, for a short weekend. While in our nation’s capital, we will stay at the downtown Holiday Inn. I really want to visit the Smithsonian Institution and the International Spy Museum. I Iook forward to seeing the alumni I worked with from The George Washington University and then having dinners at some of the old joints we used to frequent.
Here are Mary Ellen’s changes:
My beautiful wife and I are planning a trip to Washington, DC, for a long weekend. While in our nation’s capital, we’ll stay at the Waldorf Astoria and we’ll spend an entire day at the National Gallery of Art, viewing their French sculpture exhibit. I look forward to visiting with one of Mary Ellen’s longtime friends who lives in DC. Mary Ellen and I can’t wait to dine at Imperfecto, which is among DC’s most exclusive and swanky restaurants.
After seeing Mary Ellen’s edits, I said, “You fixed the grammatical and spelling mistakes, but you also changed our trip.” Before the conversation got heated, we came to an agreement. Now, she’s my travel agent, too.