Friday, August 7, 2009

Explanation of a long absence and a blog about friendship

After a brief (ahem) hiatus, we are back. Seriously. I feel newly inspired to write about writing lately, and hopefully we'll both be a little more consistent about posting in the future. In the, um, almost year since our last post, much has changed and much more has stayed the same. My husband and I bought a house, so the only thing I was writing for a while were checks to pay the bills. I am still working as an editor, reading and writing, and talking to Hayley on a weekly basis about some sort of writing-related issue. We've just forgotten to blog about it!

In this post, I would like to discuss how writing can affect personal relationships. How many professionals working as writers have been asked by a friend or family member for help writing/editing a resume, cover letter, school paper, or business proposal? And while this sort of request may seem innocent at first glance, it can be a minefield of miscommunication and mismanaged expectations. Of course, it all depends on how close you are to the person and what sort of relationship you have, but it's always good to be aware of a few pitfalls of working for friends.

Here are a few tips for writers on how to avoid ruining a friendship through heavy-handed editing:

1) Before you begin the project, discuss your friend's expectations. Does she consider herself to be a fantastic writer needing only a grammar check? Does she think "editing" means you actually writing the paper for her? Set the ground rules for the extent of editing the project requires and stick to the plan.

2) Discuss how to manage your feelings over the course of the project. This may sound silly, but it is often necessary. Working for friends is often harder than working for complete strangers because of the difficulties of finding a balance between the personal and professional relationships. Ask your friend whether she will be hurt or offended by brutally honest feedback about her work. Discuss the manner in which you will suggest revisions, whether by email, over the phone, or face-to-face. A more personal format may be less threatening and help avoid misunderstandings. In the end, do not be offended if your friend chooses not to take some of your advice.

3) Most of the editing you do for friends and family is probably free or offered at a greatly reduced rate. If you expect to be compensated for your time, whether in the form of money, barter, or dinner, discuss it upfront. Leaving the discussion until the project is finished might cause friction. If you are doing the work for free, remember to manage your own expectations. You will most likely receive a thank-you note or call from your friend, or maybe even something more (like that free dinner), but do not expect anything if you said you didn't want anything.

4) Don't take on a project out of a sense of obligation. If you truly do not have time to devote to it, the project will become a stone around your neck and make you resent your friend for saddling you with it. If you really feel guilty about not being able to help, spend a few minutes putting together a list of resources for your friend, such as books or websites with resume-writing tips and samples. Then you can say, "I'm sorry I don't have time to help you with your resume, but here are some resources I use that you might find helpful."

Do you have any other tips to share, whether from the perspective of the writer or the friend getting help with her writing?


Hayley said...

Yay! You're back! I guess that means I better get on the ball. I love this post. It is so direct yet "friendly." I think your suggestions are excellent. I will add to them as I see necessary. Yay again!!

Erin said...

Good advice! Working with/for friends and family can be a sticky situation.

I've experienced the reverse situation--friends offering to read work and give feedback. I've learned to be very cautious who I give a manuscript to, because if they're not really serious or have overestimated the time they had to devote to the project, it can be quite frustrating, several months later, to wonder if they have any intentions of finishing it or offering the promised feedback after all.

Yana said...

Good point, Erin. I think it's also important to complete work in a timely manner. Even if you are working for free, you have made a commitment to the project, and someone is counting on you. You might want to set a schedule or deadline when discussing expectations.

Ima Hogg said...

Nice tips!