While I was an engineer at Motorola, I began editing the written work of others on a regular basis, and in doing so, discovered my ability to tear into someone else’s writing and make it better without making the author feel bad. What I did wasn’t a customary or assigned part of my job, so was never called anything as formally precise as copyediting. Instead, people called it get Lynn to look it over, meaning that I was expected to perform special favors for colleagues whenever asked.
The cycle would begin when someone in my department or a nearby cubicle dweller produced a report or proposal or some software documentation. The stuckee would wander by my office with a printed copy of first draft quality material and ask, “Hey Lynn, I’ve just finished writing this here massive tome that’s due this afternoon. Would you mind looking it over? Y’know, just to make sure I didn’t make no typos or nothing.” Apparently most people assumed I had nothing else to do, that the results of their labors were close to flawless, and that I could check over a seventy-five-page report in ten or fifteen minutes, maybe while eating lunch (which I never did, but that’s another story). I was always glad to help out because I enjoyed the work, and somehow I always managed to work it in with the other things I was doing.
As the process repeated itself, and those requesting my help saw their work returned with twenty or more edits per page, they discovered that I was actually pretty good at this looking things over business. That’s when some of them started showing up with their teenagers’s junior college term papers. I didn’t mind, especially if the students were trying their hardest to produce good work.
Rather than being insulted when I transformed their work from gobbledygook to something intelligible, authors were usually appreciative (or I wouldn’t have done it!), relieved that they hadn’t tried to submit their stuff without having another pair of eyes “look it over,” examining it critically.
That’s how doing other people favors came to be a part of my job that was never covered in performance reviews, but led to a new career in later years.