Friday, November 02, 2007

Comments do matter...........

This is about how comments can change your life.... :)

It was my first job as a writer... Never written anything except those essays in school and a few technical, sleepy, long winding, sometimes, utterly lifeless essays in college, in the EXAM banner... ( I hate exams, though I was able to perform well in most of them, throughout my academic life.. Thanks to my folks at home.. Studies were rarely a topic of conflict for all of us at home ... I guess that's what made me study without hassles... )

Here I was, working on my first assignment, first paragraph - introduction.......struggling for the golden words to just jump out of my head... ( or is it my keyboard, I have no idea.....). It was just impossible for me to write the first few lines of the document. It was on project management... :) I did not know projects at work as yet, Project management was a far-fetched illusion back then.. :)

My assignment was to write a user guide for a project management software for a client company. That simply means, the client says and you listen.. You cannot take your own sweet time to write your document. It might be your first project but it is his focal interest and your manager has signed you up(!!!!!??!!!!) for the project. First job, First project, First manager, First salary, First image, First impression and all that came in my way so much that I could not get that First line right...

I forgot there will be a First editor also in my writing life.... After one whole day of struggle to write a paragraph which had five lines and all these properties:
- grammatically correct sentences
- meaningful to the business eye
- strictly adherent to the style guide I managed to grasp partially over two the first two days
- simple enough for the reader
- slightly basic for an MBA, still will pass the documentation test any day

My manager introduces my first editor to me and says that he will be editing a paragraph before he got to the book that he was editing that day. The editor said, " I know you would have done a good job, given that you have cleared our stringent recruitment process, but let me have a first look at your work for a few days till you get a first hand grip at writing... " Tired of the repeated firsts that I was facing that day, I left for the day. My editor works in the evenings only.

The next morning, I came in to have a second look at my first paragraph.. All I could see was RED colored comments... All over the page. I never knew you could rip apart 45 words ( average - nine words per line) in about two full pages of comments. Every word had a comment... I did not know how to react... I was beginning to feel, if I ever will qualify as a writer... and then came the best of the lot :) (back then, it was worst, as I was all RED in fury... I hated editors instantly....)

My editor had written this on my document:

Hi Deepa,

I know this page does not find you in the best of your cheers this morning. You must be feeling very upset at my comments all over the document. I also have to appreciate that you have taken all efforts to follow standards and write error-free grammatically correct. None of this is a language error.

Let me tell you, just this once, close all the comments, then you will get a real good grip on writing. Believe me, this situation of having to look at all red marks will not happen again in your writer life, IF and only IF you close all these comments to the best of your satisfaction.

Thanks and Regards
- Your editor

I was all wild that moment... "if none of this is English error, then what have you commented at all??!!!??" and i intended to find out.... I cleaned up the document and left a counter note to the editor saying.. " Thanks a lot....I hope you never get to make such comments again on my document. Some day I intend to learn to read a document to the level of ripping it apart with questions and comments...."

And believe me this changed my way of looking at writing for a profession and till date, I owe my sincere thanks to this editor friend of mine.. :) I am still into writing, because I successfully closed my First set of comments on my First document in my First writing job by my First editor...and such a thing never happened again.. My work still has comments, but never to that extent... I prefer to think that I have improved, though the chances are that my editors do not read my documents with the same eye for detail.

I have taken all the liberty to violate all technical writing rules in this page... :) So please don't look for technical writing standards here :) If you still do, then don't let me know.. :) This blog has only ethical rules :) and nothing else.


With new opportunities also comes to fear and self-doubt. How can we navigate these very strong forces in order to reach our fulfillment...