Before we moved to Caput Mundi I graded undergraduate papers and sometimes gave comments on academic work to fellow grad students and even a few professors. I now “grade” manuscripts submitted to the literary agency where I am interning. In both situations I describe changes that need to be made, points that were particularly good, how the argument/plot flows, and cite specific details to make my point. Even the mistakes that are made are basically the same (I’m not sure if Undergraduates or Novelists should be more insulted by that…). People use words they clearly don’t know the meaning of in order to sound more intelligent; they make leaps of logic in either argument or plot or characterization; they don’t think through the implications of what they’re writing… the list goes on. So far: the same.
But different? The way in which I have to handle the people responsible for perpetrating the horrors I just had to read. Admittedly, we were encouraged to use pens in colors other than red so we didn’t hurt the feelings of our sensitive undergrads when I was Out West. However, fellow grad students and professors who asked for my opinion got it. I wasn’t rude, but I certainly didn’t have to worry about their delicate feelings–being right is what mattered. If I was right, then it was useful. If I was wrong, it was not useful.
Out here, I have had it mentioned to me (by people who know), that it doesn’t matter that I am right. Well, it matters for about 5% of the total mattering. The other 95% that matters is saying it diplomatically enough that the author doesn’t A) kill themselves after reading my comments; B) fire their agent (and me), after reading my comments; C) inform me that I can’t possibly understand their genius and I am wrong (even though I’m right), after reading my comments; or D) all of the above, after reading my comments.
My life is so hard. Speaking truth to power is so much less fun if it has to be put diplomatically.