Over my forty years of working in an industrial setting, I have often been asked to write documents, books, etc. Early in my career, I had one boss that thought I was the most illiterate man on the face of the earth. He had me take two different courses on technical writing. As in this setting, I often write as I speak. This is unfortunate when writing a technical document. With that particular boss, a friend suggested that I take a letter that the boss wrote. Change a few key words and submit that. I did so when I had a similar approval request to what the boss had written. The boss wrote two pages in fine print in red ink telling me how much of an idiot I was. I then presented him with his letter and mine and asked if he could tell the difference. He knew he’d been called out. He threw me out of his office. That boss hated me for being me, not my writing skills. It was something in our personalities that clashed.
I thank him for the two writing courses. Yet, I can always improve, and I have often used the lessons learned in the courses that I attended. And he paid the bill. A few years ago, I was asked to rewrite a technical document so that someone with a tenth grade education could understand the complex concepts in the document. The customer paid my company a handsome six-digit fee for my writing skills. The customer was very pleased with the result, but I could have done better with more time. Part of the high fee was it was almost all done after hours and weekends to meet a rush deadline, although I got paid no overtime or got any compensating time off.
To illustrate the time needed to write better, one of my most recent bosses, not the same one, asked me to write a proposal. He said it was just like the one I had whipped up over a weekend about a year before this new request. That one looked great when he read it the next Monday, so I could surely take the old one and change a few words. I accepted his compliment as him bowing to a superior intellect. Okay, I’m confident in my writing, but I know my limitations. I can always improve.
Hold on! I wrote the old proposal in one day with no chance to review it. See where I’m going with this?
I go to the files, and I read the year-old proposal. I had created it on one Saturday, again not being paid for the effort. I read it carefully. It didn’t look familiar. I couldn’t have written this. About the beginning of the second page, I scream, “What illiterate wrote this?” Of course, I had written it, and the boss rubber stamped it without much more than a glance before it went to the customer.
It goes back to those technical writing courses that I took nearly forty years ago. When you skip a ‘the’ in a sentence, your brain reads the non-existent ‘the’ when you review it. Your brain is set on what you intended to write as opposed to what you actually wrote. You see what is not there, thus the errors go forward. I was taught in both of those courses, if in a rush, have someone else read it. It was what I insisted on when the quality procedures were developed. The boss read it, but then I already alluded to his inferior intellect. Shame on me. To his credit, I had written more volume of documents than the rest of the group combined, including his work. He trusted me from sheer volume of printed works alone. Besides, he was looking for two things: profit and a scope of work that sounded like we could pull it off. Otherwise, the spelling and grammar meant nothing to him. I could change the verb tense three times in the same paragraph, and he didn’t care as long as the company made a nice profit when we finished the job. Of less importance, unfortunately, would be that the customer was happy and wanting more when we finished.
But I was ashamed. I had written a thirty page proposal in less than eight hours. Yes, that part was accomplished. Two days later, I read what I had written, but my brain was correcting my mistakes as I read it. I wasn’t seeing the mistakes. If I had waited a few weeks, I could review the proposal from a third party perspective. I don’t think that I have ever had enough time to do that adequately in an industrial setting.
Between these two bosses, I had another boss while still with the same company as the first boss (only three years later). I wrote a 200 page textbook that was touted by the upper crust of the company as being the model for all future textbooks. My new boss took all of the credit, of course, even though I went to press before he took over the department. He wanted me to look over all textbooks before they were published, but luckily a contracted team suggested that I use their on-staff PhD Grammarian. She taught me even more about writing and grammar. It seems English grammar changes with time. Her rule about commas was “If in doubt, leave it out.” Who knows? By now, thirty years later, the comma rule may be “If it reads as bad as sin, put it back in.” Even with a grammarian helping me, there was no way that we could read 8-10 new textbooks every five weeks when some were 400-500 pages each. All were usually delivered for review less than a week before the people attending the class were scheduled. The rush to publish always overtook us.
So, when you read something that is bad English or bad spelling, even if it is my stuff. There might be a little rush to publish going on. A lot of my recent writings have been on the subject of owning my own mistakes and forgiving others for their mistakes. I will admit that if you want to challenge me, you will easily find mistakes. But if I have helped someone go through a hard time by writing about how I saw it through to the other side, the poor grammar or bad spelling did not get in the way of God’s work.
I’ll try to do better, but a conversational style is what my writing is all about at this point in my life.
Then, again, a year from now, I’ll read these pages and ask, “What illiterate wrote this?”