Every week, I write a column for you, my valued readers, with a challenging handicap. Putting my thoughts on paper in a manner that communicates clearly to all is a skill I sadly lack. Fortunately, for most writers, an editor skilled at word-craft makes the leap between dismal failure and confusion to complete success at communicating. My editor is my wife, Patty. If not for her, your response to my columns would usually be … um, what? My particular lack of communicating clearly with the written word is entirely due to my lack of drive when it came to school.
Way back in the first grade in a small town country school, we used paper tablets to learn proper cursive penmanship, practicing daily until it was perfect. Each time we were required to turn these in, I would wait until recess, then put mine under other papers in the trash can beside the teacher’s desk. It remains a mystery as to how I got away with it. Thereafter, in all the grades that followed, I barely passed any English classes. Thank the stars for my discovery of typing! I excelled in that class, motivated by the possibility that my efforts at cursive writing were at an end. By the end of that semester, I could type 40 words per minute without error. Somehow, I was able to get my hands on a used Smith-Corona typewriter, and from that point on, my reports were typed.
That wonderful device saved anyone from trying to decipher my illegible chicken scratching, but did nothing for my lack of skill at putting my thoughts into a coherent form. I couldn’t spell worth a darn either. Years later, spell check and computer word processing became another milestone in my otherwise poor efforts to put my musings on the written page. Last but not least, of my shortcomings was sentence structure and composition, clearly an important skill. I knew what I wanted to say. I was stymied, being unable to express those thoughts eloquently and in a way others would understand.
Oh, like any old geezer, I could always tell an interesting story verbally. I’ve spun some of the most elaborate tales, some complete fabrications, that could keep an audience or individual spellbound. I even joined a writing group a few decades ago, penning a number of short stories that were then evaluated by the group. There, my shortcomings were my downfall, as better-educated others verbally shredded my work weekly. Try as I might, I couldn’t seem to “get it right” and finally left in dismay. I don’t truly think they were overly critical, but it was their job to honestly critique the wordsmith of a story, not the story itself. The fact that I never asked my wife for help in editing is now a mystery. Perhaps because I was stubborn and wanted to do it without help? What a bonehead I am!
Fast forward to present time. I know I will always need an editor if I intend to write and hope to get published or even completely understood. Some of you are probably aware that there are computer programs to help with word-craft, but they will only take one’s thoughts so far. The best of them are very expensive. Even then, the final polish is still done by a skilled editor for most writers. Patty is a woman of many talents, but the one I appreciate the most at this moment is the one that helps give me a voice that is truly understood.
Update: Since this article was published, I found and purchased a writer’s program called Grammarly. It is amazing and makes me look like a real writer. However, it keeps telling me I am too wordy. Pooh, I am ignoring it half the time. I like being wordy, that is my trademark. That”s my story and I am sticking to it!