Sometimes you know, in the first words that come over the phone, that it’s going to be one of those calls – the kind that ends with your head on your desk as you say ‘no problem’ and ‘anytime’.
Of course you don’t mean it, and you hope they don’t take your words at face value.
“Are you an editor or a reporter?” She asked and that’s when I knew. It would be one of those calls.
And I guess I should have been flattered. She’d written the first sentence of something – a story of some sort – and hadn’t liked it and so her friend suggested she call the newspaper. Could I help?
She read the sentence and it was long.
Make it shorter, I told her. You’re trying to do too much.
“OK, what should I say?” I realized her fingers are poised, waiting for me to dictate.
Well. I hadn’t realized I was supposed to be writing it for her. I offered a suggestion, paraphrasing, but she wanted to take it down literally and didn’t like it.
“You need to know that she’s 89 now but she was 35 at the time of this anecdote and I just thought this was a very powerful anecdote and I wanted to start with it and then go back and tell about how she lost her arm. Oh, and she was divorced and remarried but she was married to the other man at the time of the story so the little boy has a different last name.”
Well. I didn’t need to know that, actually. But now that I do my first comment stands. You’re doing too much.
And finally she comes up with something she likes and it is simpler and yes, I tell her, that’s better.
She says thanks, she’ll let me get back to work.
She hangs up.
My head is on the desk.
If I were running a writing consultant service, I’d charge a lot more. But at least someone appreciates the writing quality here?