And you thought your last paper came back with suggestions

This is an image that has been circulating online since last week, when The New Yorker magazine posted it on its blog. [Click here for a link to the White House Flickr site, where you can see a huge image of the same.]

As an English professor and as someone who loves to be edited (nothing beats someone making your own prose even better), I thought this was pretty fascinating. Clearly, our President is also Editor-in-Chief. More important, it illustrates what goes into any polished piece of writing: rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. It’s reassuring to know that even boy wonders such as presidential speechwriter Jon Favreau (born in 1981) have to submit to the process of having their work parsed so closely. But as all good writers know, good writing rarely happens on the first draft. Sometimes the key to being a good writer is being a good self-editor.

One blogger suggests that college papers ought to come back to students looking like this. I disagree. Much as I love it when someone edits my work, I also know that English professors aren’t copyeditors–far from it–and that this sort of marked-up page makes many students queasy with anxiety and dread. Good writing, especially of the analytical variety that English courses demand, demands good thinking. Good writers, in my experience, are always asking themselves: Is this the best way to say this? Does this transition make sense? Does this strategy of organization make the most impact? Are there sentences that I love that just have to go?

In any case, next time you feel disappointed with someone’s reading of your work, consider: You could have handed in your paper/essay/poem/short story/memo to our meticulous President.

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