My friends Rob and Elizabeth and I were chatting last Friday, and our conversation turned to a bit of merchandise that another friend of ours sells in his shop. Elizabeth and I had bought a couple of his items, and we were reading the “back matter” on the… well, the back. It was amusing, as it was supposed to be - and then I got to the glaring grammar/spelling error toward the bottom of the copy. My gut reaction - as it always is when I see stuff like this - was, “Sumbitch didn’t edit this enough. Sumbitch.” Then I thought, “Oh no,” because this is a product that our friend is likely to sell A LOT of, and to have a glaring error in the copy on the back is kind of embarrassing. Or at least it is in my mind.
Yeah, I know. I’m a Grammar Nazi - I get called that all the time. And yeah, I know - ninety percent of the people who see this thing won’t notice the error, and ninety percent who do notice the error won’t care. I know.
Still, I believe that if you are going to put forth a public face, or create a publicly consumed product like this, that you ought to put forth the best face or product you possibly can. Our friend can be somewhat excused because proper grammar isn’t really necessary to sell his product. But I see this sort of thing happening all over the place nowadays - I even see bad grammar in books by authors who are vastly more published than I am. And I’m not talking about just bad writing. I’m talking bad grammar. The absolute inability to put forth something comprehensible. There are LOTS of so-called writers who simply aren’t able to put together a decent story, but I still consider them writers because they can, at least, put together a reasonable sentence. And then there are those who call themselves writers who… can’t.
Now, don’t get me wrong - our friend’s error wasn’t that bad. It was the simple misuse of a homonym which is fairly commonly misused. Still, I think he could have and should have avoided the error.
Which brings me to the real point of this post. How could he have avoided the error?
It’s actually quite easy. He could have asked me to take a look at the copy before it went to press. I’m here. He knows what I do for a living. We’re friends. He could have asked, and I would have said yes, and his error would not now exist. Also, I might have tweaked a couple of the sentences in the copy and made the whole thing just a tad better. It was pretty good, and pretty funny, so I couldn’t have helped it that much. But better? Yes. Indeed.
Also, I probably wouldn’t have charged him, per se. You see, I have clients that I charge - people I don’t really know who give me the cold hard cash to edit or write their copy. I believe, however, that among friends a sort of barter system can work out - kind of a limited form of communism, wherein I do something for you and you do something in return for me. I have friends who are lawyers, computer geeks, designers, clothing and jewelry makers, artists, musicians, electricians, carpenters, lawn care maintenance guys, bartenders, chefs, chemists, and more. I have friends who sell things I love - beer, games, travel, books.
Already, I’ve tapped into a few of my friends’ skills and talents, and I’ve been very happy with the things they’ve done for me. Now I want to offer to return the favor - or to initiate a reciprocal relationship with a friend who needs me.
And don’t just assume you can do what I do. This may sound like a bit of hubris, but I’ve seen the results of people thinking they too can write well enough to get by, and I’m embarrassed for them. I don’t claim to be able rebuild a car engine or create a topnotch investment portfolio, so neither should you claim to be able to create a good marketing brochure or advertorial.
Basically, I think that if we paid better attention to what each of us did, and communicated more, we could probably work out any number of trades. Consider this, my friends, my offer to give you my writing and editing services in exchange for whatever we can work out. And of course, if all you can offer me is the cold hard cash, I’ll take that.
You don’t ever have to have something less than (nearly) perfect go out your door, at least wordly wise. Because I’m right here.