Fixing: seeing the opportunity for improvement

 Photo on 2015-01-02 at 21.58

Susan says: Since I have a one year old son, I am always doing a lot of fixing of situations in the form of acquiring, organizing, cleaning, and inventing fun as well as order. I can be very good with emergency situations—small or more serious emergencies. I tend to not panic easily, and even if I’m terrified, I’m often able to strategize quickly. First thing! Second thing! Third and fourth thing! Once you get to the third or fourth important thing I’d say any situation is a lot more under control. My dad actually used to say about me: Susan is very good in emergencies. It’s the day-to-day monotony she has trouble with. That’s been true. I’ve gotten better about day-to-day but one part of that is accepting myself as someone who likes a lot of change throughout the week. I’ve been job juggling for a few years now and I’m pretty sure I prefer it to just one job, if the pay is right. Another example of this is that my partner and I heard that you could read the same book every night to a pregnant belly and then the child would know the story and enjoy it as an infant. We said this idea aloud and then proceeded to read various books or poems at random to the belly—there was no way we could stick with one. We do have regular meals and bedtimes, but the things we do in between change a lot day-to-day.

I’ve kind of gotten off topic here, so I’ll go back to fixing: I’m really good at strategizing with people to fix their writing at a sentence level. I’ve worked with many ESL clients who can barely put two English words together but I manage to find out what they want to say, help them find the right words, and point out every error in what they’re writing. They always appreciate it. Regular American college students often don’t want teachers fixing their writing as much because they feel they’re expressing their individuality and already know how to write. I don’t work as well with these students or with having people argue with me—I’m not that great at fixing conflicts; I’d rather they’d just not happen. Sometimes there are American students who really want my feedback—of course, these are students who really appreciate writing and the revision process. I currently help other adults fix their novels and nonfiction by providing critiques. I don’t know if the manuscripts actually get fixed, because most people can’t spend a more money on a subsequent critique, but I think I’m very good at seeing opportunity for improvement, which is a form of fixing. My hope is that those writers I help will become passionate about fixing their writing themselves, and begin seeing the success they want, which is why I try always to explain the things I want them to fix.


I wish that more businesses, publications, and entertainment industry people wanted to fix their writing, even in simple ways like not having a ton of errors in a promotional beer glass. They probably don’t care, because in the average person’s eyes, if you can understand it, it’s not broken. But so much writing out there could stand to be improved and I wish my friends and I could make careers doing it. Some people I know are—writing marketing copy for a corporation, doing book press publicity, working for an academic press, freelance copywriting for websites—but really very few people I know with advanced training in writing and editing can manage to make a living actually doing it. That’s because many people just don’t care about the quality of the writing around them, least of all the people producing it. Since their businesses are succeeding on other merits, they don’t spare the cash to do anything about making the writing better. It will remain part of our writing culture that you drive by signs with apostrophe errors or look at menu misspellings, find atrocious writing in best-sellers, etc and think “Why doesn’t someone do something about this??”

Alison says: I like the point you made about not wanting to argue, which sounds like for you is a distraction on the way to fixing. And how many people say if you can understand it, it doesn’t need fixing. But as writers and teachers and editors, we know to ask: who is “you,” and might “you” change?

I like to fix things, and I’m trying to figure out which things are constructive to try to fix and which things are better off left broken–or, for that matter, which fixed/broken things are really none of my business.

I like when there are things in my life that have a very specific fix, like my students’ MLA citations. They know about, and I know they know about, (a website where you can simply plug in bibliographic information and the website creates a citation for you) but I told myself that we were learning something useful by looking up citation format in the textbook and attempting to follow it just with our eyes and minds. Then I take them home and correct them. I am not sure if this is indeed useful, or I’m just indulging in my fetish of fixing.

About alison barker