A Writer on the Prowl

Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud, and how does it relate to the person you are?

I am a ruthless Amazon: five foot eight without my favorite three-inch heels. Silently I stalk my prey, the tip of my tongue poking out of my mouth in the age-old sign of concentration. I know it’s close. Years of practice have taught me to sense when it’s coming, even if it’s not immediately visible. Patience. It will show itself.There!I pounce.“What does ‘this’ over here refer to? You want ‘affect’ here, not ‘effect,’ and while we’re on this sentence, I don’t think you’re saying what you want to say. And over there, you’re saying what you’ve already said twice. That modifier is dangling, this is a fragment, and that’s a run-on. And what in the world is ‘hte’?”In a matter of minutes, a pristine black-and-white page is covered with scrawls of blue ink, barely legible in some places, painfully clear in others. Arrows lead half-way up the page and back down again, words are crossed out and others scribbled above them, and over still others hover seemingly malicious question marks. I may be merciless, but I am not cruel. I accept no offer to edit an essay without the explicit understanding between the author and myself that the essay will not return in the same condition it was given. And yet, people still come to me, offering their essays as sacrifices. Ever since I was old enough to toddle, there have been stacks of books around the house for me to toddle into. My mother and grandfather are both voracious readers; though we have bookshelves aplenty, each of us still harbors his or her own stack of novels that just won’t fit—and still, not one of us can resist the temptation of a bookstore. My mother taught me to read when I was four years old, and the inescapable piles of books only encouraged my burgeoning addiction. To this day, I can’t resist: if someone gives me a book, no matter how wooden the characters, how labyrinthine the plot, or how clunky the diction, I will devour it. (This flaw has actually proved quite useful in conquering tedious novels assigned in school.) The natural consequence is that I recognize bad writing. Even when I can’t name the grammatical error, I know what it is that makes the sentence “wrong” and I can usually set it right again. Extensive reading has given me an “ear” for language; things either “sound” right or wrong. Ultimately I hunt because, like any pastime, it’s fun. There’s a savage sort of thrill to hacking my way through the dense undergrowth of someone else’s prose. It’s incredible to think that no one else had ever thought to arrange these twenty-six symbols in the exactly the same pattern as the owner of this essay—not to mention the delight inherent to adjusting that unique composition to create a more beautiful pattern. 

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