What the Client Wants, the Client Gets

It should be a truism that you always give the client what he or she wants, but sometimes it’s extra-difficult. Not to say that clients are picky, but, well, let’s just say that clients are picky.

Although sometimes vendors can be, too. As a case in point, I remember a magazine that I worked on that needed an illustration of a slice of pizza. Not a difficult thing to draw, and there are reference materials everywhere if one suddenly does not remember what pizza looks like. And we would have taken any kind of pizza – supreme, pepperoni, veggie, ham and pineapple, spinach and feta, double anchovies – whatever.

But the illustrator we often worked with came back a few days later, no illustration in portfolio, and informed us that he couldn’t do the assignment because he was a vegan, or some brand of vegetarian that would have nothing to do with milk products, and couldn’t bring himself to draw cheese.

We were miffed. First, that he hadn’t told us sooner about his cheese-drawing aversion. There were any number of professional illustrators in the area who had no such qualms. Second, because we weren’t asking him to eat pizza or buy pizza or something else that might reasonably have caused him qualms by supporting the pizza industry. Just a simple black-line drawing of a slice of pizza. You couldn’t even see the cheese, really. You just knew it was there. But apparently even that was too much for him. But we knew what we wanted. We wanted cheese on our pizza.

Sometimes you do have to wrestle with your conscience to fulfill certain jobs. I edited for a religious client for many years, whose religion I did not espouse. I came to terms with it. As far as I could see, I didn’t have to believe the beliefs I was writing about; I just had to respect them, understand them, and make them intelligible and appealing to the readers. Whatever else I believe, I believe that religious publishing companies should not restrict themselves to only like-minded believers in their hiring. And yes, I wrote for them too, on non-doctrinal topics like charity and more official ones like prayer services.

Many freelance writers and editors and even the occasional illustrator must make these decisions – whether what the client wants is something you feel comfortable giving. In general, my advice is to suck it up and do what the client wants.

To use a trivial example, I stand firmly behind the Oxford comma, but if my client’s style guide doesn’t, out it goes, no matter how much it pains me. In those cases, the style guide wins. And the client.

Writing for children can be the most difficult assignment of all. Clients who assign writing that will go into textbooks are the worst. They specify not just story length, but also reading levels (there are programs that calculate this in any number of systems – use whichever your client likes),  grammatical forms (e.g., dental preterites), and even phonics examples (two words per paragraph with diphthongs, for example). Then try to make the writing creative and engaging.

One set of children’s stories I worked on was a doozy. Instead of word count, the client wanted 15,000 characters-plus-spaces (a measure I had never heard of, but fortunately Microsoft Word has). Then there were nine separate characters, each of whom had to play a role in every story. There were other requirements, too. An abstract. Pull-out quotes. Illustration descriptions. Not to mention specific topics. And a schedule that required a story every five days. And I did it all, thankful for the work.

I have blogged about writing children’s stories before (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-cD). One of the things I said was:

I believe that requiring writers to abide by rigid rules makes it less likely that the story will be appealing. And if the story isn’t appealing, I believe it is less likely that the children who read it (or are supposed to read it) will get anything from it.

But that’s not my call. It’s the client’s.


The Future of Sex and Cleaning

Forget about all the robot assembly and manufacturing machines that are out to steal our jobs. As far as I can see, the only occupations chores activities that are likely to be overrun by robotic thieves are sex and cleaning.

Let’s start with everyone’s favorite – cleaning. (I mean favorite in terms of one thing we’d like to have taken off our to-do lists hands plates – including cleaning the plates.)

Of course everyone knows by now about the Roomba and its cousins, those vacuuming wizards and automatic cat transports. And although they’re not the Jetsons’ Rosie the Robot Maid, they’re fine. As far as they go. Which supposedly is around corners and table legs, over shag carpets and pet stains, and through any detritus (other than Legos) that is conveniently lined up in a perfect rectangle, according to the commercials.

But do you have any idea what other household chores have been usurped by mechanical minions?

A quick tour around the Internet reveals the possibilities. As of this writing, there are, in addition to mechanized, self-propelled vacuums, robotic:



barbecue grill-cleaners



dustpans (I can’t make this stuff up)

cat litter-scoopers


plant- and lawn-waterers

and lawnmowers (at $2100 per, a bit pricey compared to the kid down the street or your own reluctant teenagers).

It would be nice if there were one robot that would satisfy all our needs do all that, but unfortunately, every chore needs its own robot. So we humans still have to multitask, even though our machines don’t.

But, speaking of multi-tasking, there is the RealDoll (Abyss Creations), apparently the be-all and end-all epitome (for now) of sex dolls. They’re easy, but not cheap. And they’re marketed to men. (Do I need to say that? The sexbots-for-women industry is tiny minuscule nearly invisible not yet growing unimpressive.) Starting at about what you’d pay for a robotic lawnmower, but rising rapidly at increasing price points or more, you can have a “plastic pal who’s fun to be with.” (Apologies to Douglas Adams. Couldn’t resist.)

Make no mistake, for that price you’re getting more than your standard blow-up doll. Or sheep. Or whatever. More than “just silicone orifices,” according to one writer, the sexbots are jointed, with synthetic skin, and customizations tailored to the customer’s preferences desires specifications as far as hair color, skin tone, eyes, clothing, booty jiggliness, and genitalia go.

(That customizable genitalia feature has me perplexed. According to the specs, that can mean “removable, exchangeable, flaccid, or hard.” I don’t quite get why someone would want a sexbot with flaccid genitalia. And if you know, don’t tell me. Removable kind of gives me the creeps too.)

For those of you not in touch with an aficionado of deeply into conversant with the world of artificial intelligence (AI), any number of quandaries are brought into being by the creation of sexbots. You (well, not you) pay for them, so are they prostitutes? What happens when a company decides to make a robo-sex-sheep (and you know they will)? Will a sexbot that can fulfill antisocial desires make it more or less likely that users will act out criminal lusts IRL (as the saying goes)?

Sexbot visionaries have lots of plans for the future: camera eyes for facial recognition, multiple downloadable personalities, etc. The goal is to have either a sexbot that can pass the Turing Test (being indistinguishable from a human being in conversation, the gold standard of AI) or one that you can fall in love with.

Long before then, however, we’re going to need a sexbot-cleaning cleaning robot. ‘Cause otherwise, ew.

The Year Our Christmas Presents Changed

Our family Christmases were idyllic, if simple. Each year on Christmas Day, we would all open our presents. My sister and I would get doll clothes (this was when you got outfits, not multiple Barbies) and plush animals, Spirograph and paint-by-numbers, and such.

Then we’d get dressed, jump in the car, and drive to Granny’s house, where we’d open more gifts of clothes and stationery and Avon cologne. We’d wreak havoc on a turkey and trimmings, before the adults went off for naps, after dropping us kids off at the movies.

Then came the year when my sister and I had to grow up fast.

My parents had always tried to keep any bad news away from us and carry on as normal, but there was no hiding this bad news. After being accidentally hit by the garage door, my father’s injured neck turned out to be something much worse than a sprain, strain, or contusion. It wasn’t the garage door that caused it. of course, but that was when my father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

It’s a horrible form of cancer that attacks the bones all throughout the body and destroys them. I hope the treatments have gotten better in the decades since, but for my father cancer meant radiation, chemotherapy, and an operation to fuse the bones of his neck using bone from his hip. He lived many years longer than the doctors predicted, which I attribute to his stubbornness. He certainly wasn’t a health aficionado.

Naturally, all those cancer treatments and hospitalizations were expensive. My parents had good insurance, but even that was nowhere near covering the costs. And my father’s illness was not something my parents could keep secret from us kids, much as they would have liked to. It affected every part of our lives.

When Christmas came that year, I was 15 and my sister was 16. My mother explained that because of the family’s medical expenses, we wouldn’t be able to have Christmas as usual. No driving from Ohio to Kentucky to see our relatives. And no Christmas presents.

Except one.

My mother said that all we could afford was a magazine subscription for each of us. Our choice of titles. She hoped we weren’t disappointed.

I wasn’t. To me, a magazine subscription was special, something that grown-ups got, and something that kept giving all year long. I chose Analog, a science fiction magazine, and my sister chose Sixteen. It was exciting to watch the mail for each month’s issue. (As kids, we didn’t usually get much mail, except cards on our birthdays.)

For the Christmases after that, my mother would renew our subscriptions, or let us change to a different title. When I started studying astronomy in high school, I switched to Sky and Telescope. When she turned 17, my sister switched to Seventeen.

Now I subscribe to the electronic versions of three magazines –Smithsonian, National Geographic, and Discover. I still get a little thrill each month when the new cover icon appears on my e-reader screen. It reminds me of the first time I ever got an actual, grown-up present – when I started becoming an adult, whether I wanted to or not.


Brave or (Possibly) Stupid

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the stupid from the brave.

Sometimes it’s little things. Spending $12 to enter a writing contest. Did I just waste $12? Do I have a chance of beating 230 other people to win the prize? 220 people to make it into the money? How can I stand it until the first cut is announced? Is the piece I submitted even close to what they were looking for?

But I did it. I paid my $12 and entered the contest. Stupid (possibly) and brave.

I was told I needed to have a medical treatment that terrified me. Did I really want someone to try something so drastic on me? What if all I got were side effects? What if I got no effects? What if I didn’t get myself back the way I used to be? Should I believe all the negatives I’d heard about it? Should I believe the positives?

I agreed to have it. Stupid (possibly) and brave.

Once upon a time I told someone that I loved him.

I knew the rules. In a casual relationship, never be the first to say it. But how long can you go feeling it but not saying it? What if he runs? What if you thought it might be welcome but afterward you feel like dirt? Couldn’t he have figured it out by this time? Was he not wanting to say it either? Or just not feeling it?

So I said it. Stupid (possibly) and brave.

No risk, no reward, they say. But there you are, hanging out on that cliff, looking over the edge, making the decision. Knowing that it’s brave but (possibly) stupid. That the reward may not be worth the risk, or that there may be no reward at all.

Except. Except taking that step off may mean that you fly. You could win. You could be cured. He could love you. If that’s the case, then not taking the step would be the stupid thing to do.

But you might fall. You might waste $12. You might be no better off, or even worse. He might laugh. Then you were brave but stupid.

How do you weigh bravery versus stupidity? Wasting $12 isn’t much of a gamble. Considering a risky medical procedure is. So is admitting your feelings. Does taking the small risks, being a little bit brave, prepare you for taking the big ones later? I’m not sure. Each risk must be weighed anew. You could still fall, every time.

But taking the leap and not failing puts you a little closer to doing it the next time. I would pay to enter another contest. I would consider another scary health option. I would talk of love.

None of those decisions has turned out exactly as I hoped – or as I feared. One was disappointing; one proved unnecessary; one was satisfying.

Have I been brave or stupid? The next time I have a choice, which will it be?

Statistically, some of my decisions are going to prove to be stupid. Historically, many of them have been. The next one may prove stupid too.

But, as one of my favorite authors said, “If you don’t bet, you can’t win.” That argues for bravery.

We all teeter on that cliff at one time or another. Fall, or be pushed, or leap. Or stay where you are. Which is brave? Which stupid?


For “Me Too” Women and “Not Me” Men

The “Me Too” campaign, in response to all the accusations, admissions, apologies, non-apologies, and political maneuvering, has had enormous effects. Women everywhere are opening up and sharing their stories of microagressions, unwanted attentions, assaults, and rape that many of them have never spoken of before. Most of the attention has gone to politicians and media figures, but the problem goes right down to every level of society.

I’m one of the women who has “Me Too” stories.

  • When I was delivering a job to a client at his home, he tried to kiss me on the lips. And my boss made light of it, wheedling me into saying I wasn’t afraid (I wasn’t) and that I wasn’t offended (I was), and telling the client that I wasn’t bothered by it. I suppose it came in the category of unwanted attentions, though technically it may have been at least battery.
  • Then there was the time that a different boss sat on my lap, just to make me uncomfortable. (He did.)
  • Another boss went around the business comparing the size of female employees’ breasts, including who should be in the “Itty Bitty Titty Club.”
  • And there was the guy who expected sex even though I was newly engaged at the time (one for the road, as it were), then stormed off in a huff after the “No.” (I’m glad that’s all he did.)

But I also have plenty of other stories – of men who were decent, gentlemanly, and reasonable, men who had my back when I needed it, men who respected my autonomy.

I don’t want to get into the “Not All Men” debate, or the “Now I can’t even make a pass” furor. I was challenged by my friend Diana to think about the good men in my life and celebrate them. And that’s what I’m doing here.

Let’s start with my father. One clear memory I have is of when I went to buy my first new car and he came with me. He looked at the cars with me, gave me advice on their mechanical soundness, and shared his experience of various models. I picked out my car (a blue Chevette) and he went with me to the sales office. The salesman asked my dad if he would co-sign the loan with me. And my dad said, “No.” Firmly but politely.

This was back in the day when young single women found it hard to get credit for a major purchase, especially if there was a man around who might take up the slack. But my father said, “No.” He believed that, since I had a job and was living on my own, it was my responsibility to make my own financial decision – and take responsibility for fulfilling it myself. Was I upset that he left the transaction up to me and the car dealer? I was proud.

Then there were the friends, male and female, in line with me at a restaurant. I objected to the racist and sexist decorations. The host replied, “If they really bother you that much, you could leave.” Did I just imagine the sneer in his voice?

“You’re right,” I said, turning on my heel and marching off down the street. When I finally looked back, every one of those in my party were following me, including the men. They literally had my back.

Or the work friend, whom I joined in after-hours putt-putt golf matches and card games at his house. He was a notorious horndog, but he never made a move on me – until the day that we were driving around and he confessed that he was interested. “But you haven’t even kissed me yet,” I replied. Then he did, once I had given him the go-ahead.

There have been men who accepted a “No,” without getting mad, or whining about the “friend zone,” or making me feel like dirt. There was even one, a big, tough guy who accepted a “No” when the interaction had reached the point of “heavy petting,” and held no grudge.

There have been men who accepted a “Yes,” without gloating or bragging or taking it for granted.

And then there’s my husband. We met under peculiar circumstances, in which I was stranded in a town miles from home (by a man who ran off with another woman, never giving a thought as to how I’d get home). Dan lent me money, drove me to the bus station, and gave me a bag of dried apples for snacking during the trip.

Since that time he has had my back every minute, under every circumstance, supporting me when I needed it, backing off when I needed to handle something myself. He has loved me when I was unlovable, cooperated when I was uncooperative. He’s literally supported me when I couldn’t work, and not resented when I could work and made more than he did. We’ve had our disagreements, but he always listened to my side – and sometimes changed his mind because of it. All in all, he’s an unusual man.

So either I’ve met a lot of unusual men and only a few jerks, or there are decent, reasonable, polite, and understanding men out there who get no publicity. Because where’s the newsworthiness (or entertainment value) in saying, “When I knew so-and-so, he treated me like a person. And I appreciated it”?

Adventures in Cat-Sitting

House-sitting is a great way to get away from home, relax, water a few plants, and scare off burglars who are frightened by lights turning on and off without a pattern.

Cat-sitting is an entirely different matter.

Most cats do all right if you leave them alone for a day or two – even a three-day weekend. Just set out extra food and water and maybe an extra litterbox (depending on how many cats you have). They’ll be fine. They’ll snub you when you get back, but they’ll be fine.

When you’ve got a special-needs cat, or your trip is longer, it’s a different story.

My friends were off to DisneyWorld for a ten-day stay and one of their cats is an insulin-dependent diabetic. I volunteered to sit house and cat. It was a house in a quiet country setting by a stream and the cats were pretty chill, even the diabetic one. Give him treats, I was told, and you can stick him easily. There were four of the critters, but I’ve had as many as five (I love cats), so I left our two in the tender care of my husband and headed for the north woods.

When I arrived, the cats assembled to sniff and greet me and I quickly discovered that they, having been described to me as “large,” were in fact small, medium, large and HUGE. (The small cat had somehow given birth to the other three, a feat I did not envy her in the least.)

P.J., my soon-to-be patient, flopped on his side and demanded a belly-rub. He was the large cat, easily 15 pounds. Maybe more. He was wearing a jaunty purple collar so I could tell him from his brother Red, the HUGE cat (upwards of 20 pounds, I would estimate). Both of them were orange tabbies and only a few pounds separated their heft.

The trial injection went well. I had experience giving cats subcutaneous fluids, which was one reason I was tapped for the job (the other being that I could do my work on the family’s computer instead of my own). Pinch up a fold of skin between the shoulder blades, stick the needle in, squirt, and voilà!

There was a packet of needles on the counter, a bottle of insulin in the fridge, and a handy sharps container for the used needles. Two water dishes and two food dishes, a huge plastic bin of dry cat food, four litter boxes, and several bags of treats stashed in the cabinet completed my cat-sitting kit.

For the most part, the cats ignored me. That was okay. Most cat owners are used to being ignored by their cats. On occasion, Red would accept an invitation to curl up on a blanket beside me on the sofa and allow me to stroke him, or demand treats. P.J. would do his belly-exhibiting routine on the dining room table, and Mama Cat and Vaughn (small and medium) wouldn’t give me the time of day.

Then one day, when I checked P.J.’s litter box (he had his own; he was the only cat in the household who would use the granules with an absorbent pad underneath them), I found a circle of pink around the yellow. Blood! I thought. I had instructions on what to do if the big boy looked lethargic and zoned out (rub corn syrup on his gums), but nothing had prepared me for this. Except when one of my own cats had a blocked urethra, which required surgery.

The vet’s number was on the refrigerator and on my list of instructions. But it was the weekend. I didn’t know if the vet’s office was open, or what the charge was for emergency visits, or where the cat carrier was, or whether I could get P.J. in it, or whether I could even pick up and carry the awkward thing with my bad back. (It was hard enough picking up Red when he wanted to be on the sofa but couldn’t be bothered to jump.)

Well, you all know what the next thing I had to do was: text DisneyWorld, or at least my friends there. They got back to me remarkably quickly (must have been waiting in a line). They discouraged me from running off to the vets and advised I just keep an eye on things, i.e., the pee-pad, and see whether P.J. pee-peed pink again. Or red. (Not Red.) Or some other color.

Two hours later I checked the pee-pad. Nothing. Not yellow, not pink. Nothing.

I had lunch. I checked the pee-pad. Nothing.

I did some work. I checked the pee-pad. Nothing.

I took a bath. I checked the pee-pad. Nothing.

By this time I was biting my nails. The next symptom of a blocked urethra is an inability to pee at all.

I checked the pee-pad. Nothing. I went to bed.

The first thing I did when I got up (after peeing) was check the pee-pad. There was pee and all was clear (or at least yellow).

Then P.J. flopped down on the dining room table and grinned at me.

Sometimes I hate cats.



The Not-So-Traditional Cookie Challenge

Make three different cookies – a dozen of each – inspired by your family holiday memories and traditions.

That was the assignment on a recent holiday baking show I watched.

It occurred to me that I would have failed miserably. It’s not that I can’t bake, or that I can’t bake cookies. I just have no family memories or traditions associated with cookies.

My family never baked at the holidays. Occasionally we’d get a tin or box of assorted cookies – chocolate and plain shortbreads, butter cookies, and so forth – that we kids called “kind-a-wanna cookies” because we could each choose the kind we wanted.

My mother’s baking exploits centered around box cake mixes, lemon meringue pies for my father (his favorite dessert), and slice-n-bake chocolate chip cookies. (I notice that now the company that makes these believes even slicing to be too much to task the modern baker with.)

I did have one holiday cookie-baking ritual in my teens, however. I would go over to my friend Peggy’s house and we would make either chocolate chip cookies (from scratch, no slicing involved) or sugar cookies.

The chocolate chip cookies were ones we had learned how to bake in home ec class and Peggy still had the original recipe on the original 3″ x 5″ index card. (I know she recopied the card when it became old and ragged, and I think she may have laminated it.) Actually, Peggy did the baking. I helped with the math (2/3 cup butter times 2 is 4/3 cup is 1-1/3 cups) and ate some of the raw cookie dough, this being back in the days before that was dangerous or if it was, we didn’t know it.

Our other holiday cookie tradition was Christmas sugar cookies. Again, these were from scratch and my assignment was to sprinkle the cut-out Santas and bells and stars with red and green sugar sprinkles. We’d listen to the radio (but not Christmas carols) and tuck the cookies lovingly away in colorful tin boxes with layers of wax paper. After eating just a couple ourselves, of course.

So, were I to be magically transported to a holiday baking contest, what could I make? Chocolate chip and sugar cookies, of course. Though I’d have to think up trendy flavors like bourbon-guava-cinnamon-chip cookies and sugar cookies adorned with fondant and gum paste and decorative isomalt shards.

But what would my third cookie be?

As a young adult, I had a recipe for a spice cake with raisins that I adored. Back in the day my friends and I were always broke, so I made small loaf pans of spice cake and my husband made miniature banana cakes from his Grammy’s recipe. So I suppose I  might have to fudge a little and make banana-spice cookies with raisins. (Fudge! Now there’s an idea!) Not a childhood memory, but sort of a family tradition, of a new family just starting out anyway.

I suppose I could make some kind of peanut butter cookie. That was one my mother did make from scratch, and I loved pressing the fork into the dough to make the criss-cross on top. (I suppose today we would call them “hashtag cookies.”) They’re not very “holiday,” but at least they represent a family memory.

Or, if I was a really accomplished baker, I could invent some kind of lemon-bar cookie with a toasted meringue on top, in honor of my father’s favorite, but non-holiday, pie. My mother would slip the pie into the oven to brown the meringue, but nowadays I see people using blowtorches. I still think of blowtorches as things that belong in the garage, though, not the kitchen.

No, this year I’ll do the same as ever. I don’t have children and Peggy’s son is now grown, but when she comes to town for the holidays, I fully expect we’ll both make time in our schedules for a cookie-baking fest. Chocolate chip cookies and sugar cookies with red and green sprinkles. They won’t win any competitions, but I can honestly say they are holiday traditions.



R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Find out What It Means to Everyone

“Hello, Marvin,” I said, as I stepped to the front of the line at the polling place.

“Hello,” he said, looking puzzled. “Let’s see if I can remember your name.” He thought a minute.

“Janet,” I said. No light went on in his eyes. “Coburn,” I added.

“I know I must have seen you around somewhere.”

“Actually, no. I just read your name off your name tag and wanted to be friendly.”

“I forgot I was even wearing it,” he said.

* * *

My husband was working in the electronics department of the store. He saw a customer looking at the merchandise. She was apparently transexual, or in transition, or perhaps a transvestite.

“Hello,” Dan said, with a friendly expression on his face. “Is there something I can help you with?”

The woman seemed taken aback.

* * *

Dan also sees many customers from Arabic-speaking countries. He greets them the same way, then helps them as best he can, holding up items and doing his best at understanding heavily accented English.

Those customers always come back. Sometimes, late at night, they talk to Dan, compliment him on his full, lush beard, and introduce him to their friends.

* * *

I was walking through the university’s Student Union building, leaning on my cane. Tired, I tried to take a seat on a convenient chair, but missed my landing and fell to the floor.

Instantly, a group of young women appeared at my side, expertly hoisted me into the chair, and offered to get me juice or a hot, comforting beverage. (I was a bit shaky after my tumble.)

When I assured them I was fine, they returned to the juice bar or went off to class, with no fuss or fussing. It was a big deal to me, but seemed just another event to them.

* * *

Not so long ago, there was a vogue for “random acts of kindness” – helping unknown recipients by putting a coin in an expiring parking meter or paying for the next person in line at the toll booth. And these were indeed nice things to do. They did add a little kindness to the world. Largely, they were anonymous.

What I would like to see in the world, however, are random acts of respect – using a person’s name, waiting on all customers with an attentive expression and welcoming word, helping a fallen stranger.

In fact, these shouldn’t be random acts of respect. Ideally, they should be everyday occurrences, practiced by everyone. We know that’s not going to happen, or at least not anytime soon.

So for now, let’s concentrate on “random.” Just try it whenever you think about it, or once a day. Use a person’s name – even if it annoys you when a server tells you hers, don’t summon her by saying, “Hey, waitress!” Say “Thank you” to the baggage attendant that just lifted your 50-lb. suitcase, even if you’re furious that you had to pay extra for it. Smile and nod at the worker who cleans your hotel room as you pass her in the hall. Shake hands when you’re introduced to the young person with blue hair and sleeve tats.

Do it because it will surprise someone. Do it because it will make someone feel good. Do it because you’re a good person. Do it because your mother told you to be polite. Do it because it’s the only lift a person may get all day. Do it because the people you meet every day deserve respect and too often don’t get it. Do it because we’re all human beings, sharing the planet.

And say “thanks” or nod and smile when someone shows respect to you. You deserve it too. Then keep the chain going.

Practice won’t make perfect. But it will make better. Help. Greet. Smile. Thank. Look at someone when you talk to him. To quote a different song, “Little things mean a lot.”

Three Ways to Revise Your Writing

There is no writing. Only rewriting.

I’ll admit that in high school and college I used to sit down at my typewriter (yes, I’m that old) and knock out a piece of writing that I would turn in unrevised except for typos. (Thank God for Corrasable Bond and Wite-Out.) And I skated through somehow.

But now that I write and edit for a living, I know the value – the necessity – of rewriting. I checked my blog posts and they average six different versions before I post them each week. Some of those revisions are only a word or two here and there, or a better title or an illustration, but many changes are more significant.

The three main types of revision I do are to add, cut, and rearrange.


By adding, I don’t mean padding. Hardly anyone pays by the word anymore, so there’s no need to bump up your word count on that account. But there are legitimate reasons to add to the text you’ve written. Here’s an example:

Nicky and Spike, trotting now, plunged deeper under the dim canopy of trees. A light sweat on the boy’s forehead and the dog’s rhythmic panting mixed with the early evening’s chill, a seesaw between warm and cool. A few newly fallen leaves scuffed underfoot, reminding him of the sound of rattling papers and the dusty scent of school.

This is a piece of fiction I was writing. In the original I used visual words like “dim”; sound words like “panting”; and even touch words like “sweat,” “chill,” “warm,” and “cool.”  In the sentence I added, I beefed up the sound words (“scuffed,” “rattling”) and added a smell – “dusty scent of school.” Smell is one sense that often gets overlooked in description. In a later scene, I described a garage mechanic’s shop using mostly smell words – “There was the distinct tang in the air entering my nostrils: grease, fuel, ozone, and some solvent that smelled like nail polish remover but probably wasn’t.”

Of course, sensory description can come in to play in nonfiction as well, but more often nonfiction needs supporting points to bolster a thesis, such as arguments or examples or sentences that extend a thought.


Back in the day, there were two kinds of cutting often required. The first was surgical editing, snipping a word (usually “very”) or even an ending here and there to bring up a widow or orphan in typesetting. (Yes, I am that old.) The other was slash-and-burn cutting, removing entire sentences and paragraphs when an author had overwritten the space allocated. When you have a specific word count, be it 300 words or 3000, you may very well have to cut.

Here’s one case in which I had to cut:

But let’s get back to (advertising. It’s bad enough that large men can’t find clothing to fit and flatter them, but onscreen they’re invisible.) real life. The plus-size men I know don’t even have a clue where they can find underwear that fits.

The text I cut is in parentheses and the words I added to take their place are in bold. When I looked at the paragraph, I realized that I was no longer talking about TV, so I ditched the part about on-screen ads and brought the discussion back to lived experience.


Finally, there is changing the order of sentences or paragraphs – rearranging. This can be triggered by pragmatic as well as aesthetic concerns. In one piece I wrote, I discussed pantyhose, hair coloring, and packaging. The best visual I could find for the piece was one of packaged fruit. Voilà! The piece became one about packaging concerns, hair coloring, and pantyhose. (If you wonder how all those worked together, you can find it at https://wp.me/p4e9wS-za.)

Another post started with the title “Does It Help When Celebrities Talk About Mental Illness?”

The first and second sentences were:

It usually doesn’t hurt.

(Except when it’s someone like Andrew Tate, of course. https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-zj)

I continued:

But how much does it help?

And then it occurred to me that the order was wrong. The intro should read:

It usually doesn’t hurt. But how much does it help?

So I rearranged it. But that left the Andrew Tate sentence hanging. So I cut it. Unless the reader already knew about the Tate incident, it was meaningless, and expecting the reader to go look it up was an imposition.

There are many other techniques of revision – unburying the lead, starting in media res, strengthening the flow of a piece, switching from third person to first – and ones that apply more to fiction or nonfiction (or poetry for that matter). But a fair amount of the revising you do will be a variant of one of these three techniques: adding, cutting, and rearranging.

The Big and Tall Blues

While I am pleased to see that “curvy” (plus-size) women are being featured in clothing and retailer ads on TV, and encouraged to accept – nay, celebrate – their figures, I have noticed a certain lack.

Where are all the plus-size men?

Well, we all know the answer to that. They’re on TV commercials as the butt of every joke, the loser in every office, the fall guy in every set-up. Or they’re dancing in a manner destined to spark derision. (Never mind that Drew Carey proved on the intro to his sitcom that hefty guys can bust a move.)

But in clothing commercials or ads for retailers that carry clothing? Nary a big guy to be found.

It should be noted that this merely reflects the reality of shopping. If a store has a “big and tall” section, it usually caters to tall and defines “big” as topping out at 3X (and those are always sold out, which should tell retailers something).

Then there are the b-and-t shops, which charge a hefty (sorry) premium for larger sizes. C’mon, it’s not like a few extra inches of fabric costs that much. If shoe manufacturers can afford the extra leather, canvas, or whatever for wide sizes, why do larger Dockers cost $50-75? (And that’s the last time I shopped. It could be even higher now.)

And while we’re on the subject, think of the difficulty I had finding a stock photo to illustrate this post. What I got when I searched were images of Santa; rednecks with shotguns; and men eating giant, dripping burgers or pizza. (Most of them had beards, too, which apparently are correlated with weight in someone’s mind.)

But let’s get back to real life. The plus-size men I know don’t even have a clue where they can find underwear that fits. They go from Target to Penney’s to Sears, only to find a dearth of options. It’s like large men are being urged to go commando. And if they do find undies that fit, they invariably are plain white. (Though this is a flaw in women’s undergarments as well. What, do you run out of flowers and stripes at size 10?)

What does this leave? Internet shopping, of course. And the price and selection problems persist there as well. At least women have sites like eShakti where we can have fashionable styles tailored to our dimensions, at only a nominally higher cost, and can find ready-made plus sizes in flattering and diverse designs (and by flattering, I don’t mean just vertical stripes).

Wait. Where was I? Oh, yes. Plus-size men’s clothing. The men’s rights movement has appeared not to have noticed the lack of clothing choices and the insulting ads, being more vigilant about custody decisions and uppity feminists, but they perhaps ought to take a lesson from the women who are working for body-positive fashion choices.

Until large men (let’s be clear here – fat boys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkTJTAS7ePE) get aware and vocal about their limited choices, unequal representation, and demeaning depictions, they will have to live with the choices that the fashion and retailing industries give them. And that’s a meager diet.

I have known, and admired, and lusted after large men. I just wish they had something decent to wear.