At the outset of my career, my boss told me not to feel bad when clients return a draft bathed in red. It’s part of the process, he explained. Besides, clients know their topic better than I.
Even in matters of style, a writer might just learn something from a client. Like the time a mechanic suggested to me that “Cut Gas Costs” might make for a more accessible headline than “Reduce Fuel Consumption.”
Still, dumb requested changes can annoy. Like the client who made me change a correct use of in behalf — yes, there really is a correct use — to on behalf. Oh well. The client was ultimately in charge, the client’s name and not mine would go on the page with the error, and few readers would even notice the misuse.
That was my third-favorite dumb rewrite request. My second-favorite came in the form of, “Make it longer.” I would be happy to, I said, meaning it, but I would need to understand what was missing. “Just make it longer.” Fine, but what needed to be added? “Just make it longer.” How? Insert ellipses? Throw in redundancies? Increase font size and leading? Change every but to however, every so to therefore, and every 10,000 to ten thousand? “No; just make it longer.” The conversation ended with the client’s hanging up in frustration. I was frustrated, too. Then he found my earlier draft — the one he hadn’t read but had told me to cut down, because it was too long. “This is perfect,” he said.
My all-time favorite dumb rewrite request came in the form of, “The CEO doesn’t like what you wrote. We need you to revise it.” I would be happy to revise it, I said, once again meaning it. Which parts did the CEO not like and why? The contact person didn’t know, and set off to ask the CEO. About an hour later, he called back. The CEO had misplaced my draft; would I mind resending it? I did. A day later, I learned that the CEO loved the “new draft.” For once, I had the presence of mind not to blow it. Much as I wanted to say, “Tell that moron that’s not a rewrite, it’s the original,” I said, simply, “Glad I could help.”
... where I share thoughts about writing. I don’t consider myself a writing authority, but that doesn’t keep me from presuming to blog like one. Oh, and I reserve the right to digress when I feel like it.